[FORUM]Semantics and the Dokdo dispute

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[FORUM]Semantics and the Dokdo dispute

Apparently, couples that have transcended Korea’s and Japan’s national boundaries to live together harmoniously have been going through a hard time recently.
The controversy over historical distortions has been practically an annual event between the two countries, so they have managed to bear the differences in views in one way or another.
But the controversy over the territorial rights to the Dokdo islands, which was raised again a few months ago, seems to often expand to serious family disputes.
It’s gotten to the point that one Korean woman declared she wouldn’t sleep with her Japanese husband after he unexpectedly started to insist on Japan’s territorial right to the Dokdo islands, after keeping silent on the issue since they got married.
If you listen to her story, you will see how the quarrel between the Korean and the Japanese diplomats over the islands are being repeated in many homes incessantly.
Another Korean woman refused to make dinner for her Japanese husband for several days. Finally, the husband surrendered. “Takeshima, I mean Dokdo... the Dokdo isiands are yours,” he said. “Just take them and give me my dinner.”
Korean-Japanese couples learn to understand each other through such incidents, and so their love grows for one another. They do not like to express their emotions vaguely; instead, they want to clarify things before they move on.
Among the Japanese people’s favorite words is one that means “forward-looking consideration.”
Especially in statements and press conferences given after the Korea-Japan negotiations dealing with correcting Japanese history textbooks, establishing a committee or pursuing a free-trade agreement, the word “forward-looking” is always used like an indispensable element of a drug.
The problem is that we interpret the word forward-looking almost 100 percent “positively,” when the Japanese use it to mean something like “taking note” in most cases.
Therefore, a huge misunderstanding is created between the two countries whenever something comes up. The differences in the meaning of vocabulary commonly used by both sides is another factor that creates friction between Korea and Japan. They create a zone of ambiguity in mutual understanding.
It is quite the spectacle to see that the word “forward-looking” is profusely and continuously misused in Korean diplomatic documents and in speeches made by politicians in the National Assembly. We rashly use this Japanese word, which does not even exist in the Korean dictionary and which has a different meaning in Japan.
That is why Japan hides behind the word “forward-looking” when they review important diplomatic issues, and we fail to reveal what is behind the mask of the word.
Japanese people who know Korea well would say that this shows how easy it is to play tricks on Koreans because the word makes Koreans look like they are pro-Japanese.
The reason popular singer Cho Young-nam had a hard time after light-heartedly entering into a debate over the historical issues between Korea and Japan and the Dokdo islands is that he did not have much of a chance to experience the real Japan.
The book “There is No Japan” portrayed Japan as a helplessly small and tattered country. In contrast, the speech and behavior of Cho Young-nam has been more used to portray Japan as a great and big country.
If he had taken the time and tried to understand the roots of the agony experienced by Korean-Japanese couples, or if he had at least known how the word “forward-looking” was used by the Japanese, he would not have gone through such difficulties.
It seems that an atmosphere is created in which he emerges as the victim of both countries, and I cannot help but think that this is a grave problem indeed. Cho Young-nam has been condemned by the public in Korea, but the Japanese public opinion is encouraging him to stand tall.
Both countries have him on a chopping board, and they are continuously using him as an ingredient in their criticisms of each another.
It is best to let Cho Young-nam’s obscure, rhetorical questions and jokes be forgotten. Amplifying the problem by continuously bringing it up is an affront to our dignity.

* The writer is the editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Next. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Choi Chul-joo

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