[VIEWPOINT]Keep cool over Dokdo dispute

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[VIEWPOINT]Keep cool over Dokdo dispute

South Korea and Japan have been swept by the angry waves again. Koreans’ emotions have come to the boiling point over Japan’s territorial claim over the Dokdo islands and its textbooks that distort history. In addition, as President Roh Moo-hyun issued an ultra hard-line statement against Japan, it is hard to predict the future course of development. Koreans have never hesitated in expressing their rough feelings toward Japan whenever there were unhappy events between the two countries. I worry that the presidential statement may fan such emotional explosion more violently. In fact, it can’t be denied that previous governments have all utilized anti-Japan feelings of the people to a certain degree. However, we shouldn’t respond to Japan with a fit of passion endlessly. It is time to calmly calculate what we may gain and lose by reacting emotionally to this conflict.
First, we must think if the Shimane prefecture established Takeshima Day based on a calculated division of roles between the prefecture and the central government, and if South Korea became embroiled in the plan.
There is a probability that the Japanese government could have planned to say that the central government cannot intervene in the decision of a prefectural government and that the measure taken by Shimane prefecture is not Tokyo’s official stance. At the same time, it is possible that the Japanese have calculated that the local government’s decision would anger South Koreans.
In fact, international media was not initially interested in Shimane prefecture’s moves, but reports focused on violent anti-Japanese demonstrations in South Korea, such as the burning of Japanese national flags and dolls of Japanese leaders, cutting off fingers in protest and a man setting himself ablaze.
Therefore, the Japanese government has succeeded in highlighting the existence of a territorial dispute between Japan and South Korea in the international arena. Paradoxically, we have been helping such Japanese plot.
The world is watching Koreans’ violent demonstrations and may wonder if Koreans have qualms of conscience in dealing with Japan. Reacting to a prefectural legislative body’s action, the president gave excessive emphasis by condemning it as “an act of denying the liberation of the Republic of Korea,” and the National Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the move. Politicians from both the governing and opposition parties did not hesitate to show their emotional reactions, demanding drastic countermeasures that may bring about losses to the country. We must think twice how such reactions may be viewed by the international community.
Shimane prefecture is nothing more than one of Japan’s 47 local governments. A bill adopted by the prefectural legislature will have no actual impact on the Dokdo islands, which historically, legally and geographically have been a part of South Korea’s territory and effectively controlled by South Korea. Therefore, we need to be a little calmer at this point.
Not all the Japanese agree with the territorial claims and support the attempts to distort history. Expressing rage with extreme expressions may prompt anti-Korean feelings from the majority of the Japanese people, who maintain balanced views over historical and territorial issues. Recently, more and more Japanese people have been interested in Korean culture and are trying to understand their neighboring country better. We must not make them turn their backs on us.
Masan city council adopted a bill establishing Daemado Island Day, claiming rights over Tsushima Island. That will only stir up unnecessary disputes and will not help resolve the ongoing conflicts. It is also unwise to sever friendships between local governments in Japan and South Korea, which were established to improve understanding and increase exchanges between the two countries. Rather than delaying or calling off planned visits by the Japanese students to Korea, we must invite Japanese youth here to understand more about Korea. That will contribute in preventing similar disputes in the future.
While demanding that people keep responding in a calm and cool-headed manner, the president himself has declared “a diplomatic war” against Japan. Strong demands and expressions made by a head of state block the way of retreat. “A diplomatic war” will bring losses to both sides regardless of whether we win the war or lose. The government and people must approach the issue with realistic and cool-headed logic. Then the understanding in our position will grow wider both in Japan and international community.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United Kingdom, is a professor emeritus at Inje University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Dong-jin
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