[OUTLOOK]Lessons we can learn from Japan

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[OUTLOOK]Lessons we can learn from Japan

The entire nation is putting all its energy into the Dokdo problem. The president takes the lead in this matter, saying he will uproot the problem, and the public applauds his outspoken remarks. Thanks to this atmosphere, the president’s popularity is said to have greatly increased.
Dokdo shirts, Dokdo songs, Dokdo tourism, Dokdo, Dokdo ― everywhere you look is Dokdo. This reminds us of the time when two middle school girls’ deaths by an armored U.S. military vehicle led to candlelight demonstrations. At this point, if one tactlessly talks of taking a calm approach, he may be considered as pro-Japanese and stones may be thrown at him.
If one argues for reconciliation with Japan because of the possible impact on the economy, he will be surely denounced as a mammon worshipper or an impossible hard-core conservative who does not understand his country’s immense pride.
But although the president has boldly raised the issue, I am concerned about settling the situation. What if the problem isn’t uprooted after he emphasized that he would uproot it?
Mr. Roh said he would argue with Japan about what is wrong and right if necessary but would continue pursuing exchanges and cooperation separately. That is, however, our wishful thinking. I’d like to ask him what measure he has prepared for the situation if this confrontation continues and if exchanges and cooperation are also impaired as a result.
Let bygones be bygones. We had better recover our composure and seek ways to settle the situation calmly from now on.
Of course, we had sufficient reasons to be angry: The Japanese ambassador to South Korea made inconsiderate remarks in Seoul in February that Dokdo was historically and legally a part of Japan, then the Shimane prefecture council passed an ordinance to create Takeshima Day.
Also, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s characterization of President Roh’s remarks at the commemoration of the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement as merely designed for domestic political purposes has served as a catalyst for the uproar. Mr. Koizumi made a slip of the tongue serious enough to hurt the pride of the president of another country and to anger that nation’s people.
The problem is that the Dokdo issue can’t be solved if Korea gets angry and resentful. Japan’s response to Korea’s resentment seems cool-headed and moderate to the point of being hateful. After causing us much trouble, Japan gently reproaches us, asking, “Why are Korean people so emotional?” Its attitude that we are not worth a response is even more unpleasant.
But let’s think otherwise. Isn’t this coolness a sign of Japan’s latent power, a fearful and fierce aspect? Isn’t this what Korea should humbly learn from Japan even if Korea does not want to learn anything from that country? Isn’t it said that the one who loses composure in a fight is the loser?
Japan did not rise from its defeats to become an economic power without effort. Japan has never challenged the stronger country recklessly. Japan’s common strategy, whether for the nation or for businesses, was to defeat its rivals with the strength gained through humble learning. Japan regards “kneeling down” as something to be proud of, never something to be ashamed of.
Japan even has a research institute that studies how pressure from foreign countries has helped the development of the country.
This institute minutely records and studies the process through which Japan came to dominate the U.S. market with technology and economic aid from the United States, although Japan surrendered to that country in World War II.
In the end, we will be able to outrun Japan only when we can humble ourselves even if we are angry and be even more cool-headed than the Japanese people.
Kenichi Omae, an economic expert who has directly criticized Korea by saying, “Don’t be mistaken. Korea has a long way to go,” is a rather exceptional Japanese. He warned, “Do not think Korea has caught up with Japan just because Samsung Electronics produced more profits than Sony.” Today’s Korea should heed his advice.
Whether in a diplomatic war or in an economic war, if we want to win, we should not speak loudly with words but instead be strong in actual power. The problem is whether we are equipped with such power.
Moreover, it is an outrageous mistake to think that a country can control the sentiment of another country. President Roh says he will change the Japanese people’s perceptions, but that is sheer nonsense. If we had the capability to do that, it would be even better to use it to make ourselves stronger.
I recall the words of a Japanese journalist who said he was studying the historical figure Lee Wan-yong: “Wouldn’t a thorough study on Lee Wan-yong, who sold out the Joseon Dynasty to Japan, prevent the emergence of a second Lee Wan-yong? Despite the necessity, Korean historians do not study him. Therefore, I have decided to study him.” I think this is something we should note in the fearsome Japanese.

* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Chang-kyu
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