[GLOBAL EYE]Only Japan can break the cycle

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[GLOBAL EYE]Only Japan can break the cycle

The Japanese flag is burning. Eggs are being thrown again at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and portraits of the country’s prime minister are being burned to ashes. Tags reading “not for sale” are being stuck on Japanese products.
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was given the punishment of rolling a rock to the top of a mountain. Every time he made it to the top, the rock would roll back down to the bottom again. The scorn Japan is undergoing today is like the punishment inflicted upon Sisyphus. There is no statute of limitations for ugly crimes committed during a dark period of history. It may be unreasonable, but this is the unfortunate condition of Korea-Japan relations.
No Korean would oppose a relationship with Japan that’s oriented toward the future. That is why our heads tell us to keep cool about recent developments. The problem is that the heart does not listen to the head. We seem to have a “resent-Japan” gene. The anti-Japan tsunami in Korea, which has been stirred by the Japanese claim to sovereignty over Tokto and by Japanese ultra-rightist groups’ attempt to publish distorted history books, is being led by none other than the Internet generation. This means there is no generation gap when it comes to the national Korean emotion of mistrust and hostility toward Japan.
This is not a situation that will be mitigated by the government or by the media. It is difficult to criticize shrewd politicians who count votes and calculate approval rates, or commercial media that consider sales and viewership ratings when taking advantage of the people’s feelings against Japan.
How many times should we repeat this regressive course of action? We are sick and tired of re-airing our resentments every time this typhoon blows in.
It feels like a daily chore. Spare us such cynical remarks as “The pot starts to boil, then cools off right away.” In the end, there is no way out of this but for Japan to change. Because even when the generations change, our genes do not.
The reconciliation between Germany and France after World War II was made possible by Germany’s thorough renunciation of the Third Reich and by its honest reflection upon itself. Germany was able to transform mistrust into trust and hostility into friendship, not by mere statements made under duress, but by voluntary self-reflection and acts of atonement.
As a result, those two countries have become the best of partners, leading a new wave of European history. Not only that, the two countries jointly publish history books. The relationship has developed to the point that France is an active supporter of Germany’s bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Japan, too, says that it repents of past wrongs. But it is only lip service. Japan does not take any sort of action to demonstrate remorse. Just when people seem to be forgetting about the past, a Japanese cabinet member or a politician in a position of authority says something absurd to justify Japan’s aggressive war-making and its imperialism. History textbooks that distort the facts receive government approval.
Nor is that all. The prime minister, who is in charge of the government, regularly worships at the Yasukuni shrine, which is a symbol of militarism. If the Japanese mean it when they say they are sorry for their past militarism, how is it that such things continue to occur? That is why people are saying they cannot trust Japan.
Like Germany, Japan longs to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. There should be no reason for South Korea to raise objection to a neighboring country, one that shares the common values of freedom, democracy and free markets, becoming a permanent member of that body. But I am curious as to how a country that cannot even gain the trust of its neighbor will be able to persuade anyone that it can be a trustworthy global leader.
Cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan is necessary for maintaining the strategic balance in East Asia. With this in mind, the United States must recognize the importance of partnership between South Korea and Japan. Trying to stay neutral between the countries is not the answer.
I truly hope that Japan will soon be able to put down the burden orf Sisyphus. But this will only be possible when changes are evident in its actions, not just in its words.

* The writer is an international affairs writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Bae Myung-bok
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