[TODAY]Severing Japan ties a mistake

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[TODAY]Severing Japan ties a mistake

There are some points we should know in dealing with the controversy over the Dokdo islands. First, no school in Shimane prefecture has adopted the controversial history textbook published by Fushosa after it was approved by the Japanese government in 2001. Linking the Dokdo islands situation to the greater issue of school textbooks that distort history is a strategic mistake.
Second, one of the motives of Shimane prefecture’s council in establishing “Takeshima Day” was to draw the attention of prefecture residents who are indifferent to the Dokdo issue.
Therefore, it is not wise for our local governments and civic groups to stop exchanges and communication with Shimane prefecture.
I met Ko Maniwa, editor-in-chief of the San-in Central Newspaper published in Matsue. He said, “Shimane prefecture has demanded for 50 years that the central government take an interest in Dokdo as much as it has in the northern territories of Japan, but the Japanese government responded that the Dokdo problem is a nuisance.
“It was because the government took into account Korea-Japan relations. The establishment of ‘Takeshima Day’ (Takeshima is what the Japanese call Dokdo) was intended to raise an issue before the Japanese people and Shimane prefecture residents,” he said. Arguments that the Japanese government supported or aided Shimane prefecture in creating Takeshima Day are far from the truth that I observed in both Tokyo and Shimane prefecture.
Rather, the Japanese Foreign Ministry is being reproached by conservative right-wing lawmakers who ask, “Which country does the foreign ministry belong to?”
The conservatives also took advantage of the situation in Shimane prefecture for their own purposes rather than supporting legislation creating Takeshima Day. The Japanese government underestimated that a law establishing the day would not greatly aggravate Korea-Japan relations.
Would the result have been different if the Japanese government viewed the situation more seriously from the beginning?
The central government cannot interfere with local governments. But former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita of japan, a leading figure in Shimane prefecture political circles, ensured central government money flowed into his district for almost 20 years to help appease residents and prevent extreme behavior over the Dokdo issue.
Even now, there are two heavyweight politicians from Shimane prefecture: the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Upper House caucus, Mikio Aoki, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan deserves criticism for failing to persuade the two politicians to prevent conflict between Japan and Korea over the Dokdo islands at least until the North Korean nuclear problem is resolved. But failing to make such an effort is one concern, and abetting the passage of Takeshima Day is another.
Economically, Shimane prefecture is poor.
As of 2002, its per capita income was 2,405,000 yen ($22,440), 15.6 percent lower than Japan’s national average of 2,848,000 yen per year. About 4,500 fishermen in Shimane prefecture are dependent on the rich fishing grounds near the Dokdo islands shared by Korea and Japan.
As fishermen’s demands grow louder, it will be interesting to see what follow-up measures Shimane prefecture will take since Takeshima Day was declared.
Hiroshi Imai, a department chief at the Japanese parliamentary secretariat, said, “With a public relations budget of 2.8 million yen for 2005 for Takeshima, we can only publish pamphlets.”
Mr. Imai said lawmakers were happy that the strong reaction of President Roh Moo-hyun and the Korean people advertised at no cost the Dokdo problem around the nation and the world.
Mr. Maniwa, the editor-in-chief of the Chuo Central Newspaper, also explained that the number of hits on Shimane prefecture’s Web page increased from about 60,000 per month to 530,000. It was thanks to our president’s strong remarks.
At present, Korean local governments, schools and civic groups are breaking off exchanges and cooperation with Shimane prefecture aggressively. This reaction is certainly undesirable and to the contrary.
Why should we force the residents of Shimane prefecture and neighboring Tottori prefecture who have no interest in the history textbook issue to adopt the distorted history textbook by mixing the Dokdo and history textbook issues?
When I turned on the television in a hotel in Matsue, the popular Korean drama “All In” was on. After “Winter Sonata,” Korean television dramas “Daejanggeum,” Stairway to Heaven” and “Romance in Paris” received a great response in Japan. The Korean culture boom continues intact.
Even if President Roh talks about a diplomatic war, our local governments and civic groups should resume and expand exchanges with Japan at the grassroots level.
This is the way to protect history and the Dokdo islands and love our country.

* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie
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