[VIEWPOINT]Japan lacks historical understandingFor both South Korea and Japan, Dokdo is a sensitive and explosive issue. Japan has continuously tried to create conflict over its territorial rights by raising objections to Korea’s claims, although it has acknowledged Korea’s actual occupation of the islets.
In response, the Korean government has conveyed a firm determination to protect its territorial rights, while handling the issue quietly. This year, however, the Japanese government revealed its intention to violate Korea’s firm position by ordering Japanese textbook publishers to say the Dokdo Islets were originally part of Japanese territory, and also by sending a ship to survey the waterways. The situation has become so serious that the Korean government had no choice but to openly and actively challenge Japan.
Observing recent actions taken by Japan ― the Japanese political leaders’ visit to the Yasukuni Shrine and the provocation of territorial disputes over the Dokdo Islets ― I can not but suspect that Japan is moving toward being a so-called “ordinary nation.”
Their eager pursuit of a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance and the recovery of its economy since 2003 are the backdrop. In that sense, the Japanese themselves are making use of foreign policy for domestic political purposes.
Some people say Japan has profited by creating a conflict over Dokdo by threatening to send a survey ship. However, Japan’s behavior has gone out of the bounds of international practices and will only result in a great loss to the country for the following reasons.
First, Korea has a painful history of losing its sovereignty by failing to strengthen its national power and being blind to international situations. But the Korean people have overcome that painful past and have built the 11th-largest economy in the world and a democratic country. Japan’s recent actions have caused great pain to the Korean people, who have accomplished miraculous achievements. In 1998, former President Kim Dae-jung and then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan adopted the “New Korea-Japan Partnership Joint Announcement for the 21st Century,” in an effort to create a future-oriented Korea-Japan relationship.
However, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi uses sophistry, saying, “I worship at the shrine of national heroes who sacrificed themselves for the nation with the resolution that a war that tormented neighboring countries shall not be repeated.”
He has even dared to open the Pandora’s box by rekindling the issue of Japan’s territorial right over the Dokdo Islets. Japan cannot be a mature leading country in Northeast Asia without soothing the hearts of the Korean people who suffered under it. Japan forgets that Japan itself was only able to trust the United States and conclude an alliance with the country after Washington decided to return all Japanese islands that the United States occupied during the Pacific War.
Second, the two countries facing each other across the Straits of Korea do not share the same historical experiences.
Unlike Koreans, who suffered various hardships according to the rise and fall of the continental and maritime powers around the Korean Peninsula, Japanese people, who have never been under the harsh rule of a foreign country, seem to be unaware of the coldness of international politics.
Japan must not forget that it has benefited greatly and continues to benefit from Korea because Korea protected the country from all kinds of storms that originated from the continent. Japan enjoyed a short period of national prosperity in its modern history from the mid-19th century. If Japan tries to find the background of the prosperity only from the foresight of the Meiji Restoration (1866-1869), it is an illusion and fantasy. Korea is now leading the world in certain fields such as information technology, and has become a country with enough national power to exceed Japan in various areas in the 21st century.
Korea is also extending its sphere of survival and prosperity. It won’t be long before it is proved that Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s remark, that Korea will one day regret not holding summit talks, was a slip of the tongue. Japan is losing something “big” for not putting itself in someone else’s shoes.
Korea and Japan are at the crossroad of having to devise a new plan for Northeast Asia at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, the effort to create a “Northeast Asia cooperative community” is going to end in vain due to Japan’s wrong historical understanding.
There is an old Japanese saying, “Water that has passed by cannot turn a watermill.” How could one possibly turn a watermill with dirty water contaminated with wrong historical awareness that has already passed by?
Shouldn’t we turn the watermill with new water cleared by a right sense of history?
* The writer, a former senior presidential secretary for security affairs and Korean ambassador to Russia, is a visiting professor at the Graduate School of North Korea Studies, Kyungnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Chung Tae-ik