[Viewpoint] Writing the third chapter

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[Viewpoint] Writing the third chapter

Amajor political upheaval has taken place in Japan.

A change of government between the ruling and the opposition parties has occurred for the first time since the Liberal Democratic Party took power in 1955.

This achievement can be compared to the change in government in 1998 when late President Kim Dae-jung took office. His victory marked the first time power was transferred in Korea to a democratically elected opposition candidate since the Republic of Korea was founded in 1948.

True, the opposition party ruled in 1960 after the April 19 Student Revolution, but it remained in power for just nine months.

No doubt, the latest Japanese national election will initiate a number of changes. It appears that in the history of competition between Korea and Japan, a third chapter is opening, too.

The first chapter started in 1852 and lasted till 1945 when Korea was liberated from colonial rule at the end of World War II.

During this period of rapid change when Western forces gradually moved toward the east at the end of the 19th century, the leaders of Joseon Dynasty and Imperial Japan were the leaders Gojong and Meiji, respectively.

Was it a joke of history that the two were both born in 1852?

In retrospect, it seems that the gods of history let the two people stand on the same starting line and made them race against each other.

There was not much difference between the national powers of Joseon and Japan when the two were born. However, by the time they had passed away - Meiji in 1912 and Gojong in 1919 - the fates of the two countries were sealed.

The geopolitical situation and the internal power structure of the two countries were quite different. However, what ultimately divided the fate of the two countries was the differences in terms of national power.

Japan quickly accepted Western civilization and culture, and nurtured its own power, but Joseon did not.

The most iconic symbols were the gunboats. During the Opium War in 1840, hundreds of thousands of Chinese Qing Dynasty troops fought helplessly against British gunboat attacks.

After watching the humiliating surrender of the Qing Dynasty to the British, the Japanese realized the power of Western gunboats.

In 1853, a U.S. fleet forced Japan to open up to foreign trade. Japanese people called the U.S. steamers “black ships” and agreed to the Americans’ requests out of fear.

Although Japan surrendered to the United States and submitted itself to an unequal treaty, it realized some ambitions of its own when the country later bought gunboats from Britain.

Inevitably, it seems in hindsight, Japan attacked Yeongjong Island in Korea in 1875.

A few years before that, Emperor Gojong’s father, Heungseon Daewongun, had fought the French and U.S. steamers in Ganghwa Island, west of Seoul.

When the steamers retreated after the fighting, the rulers of the Joseon Dynasty started to believe that it had the capability to beat back Western military forces.

It was unfortunate that they misread the elephant that was the West on the basis of a few gunboat skirmishes.

The Daewongun’s son, Emperor Gojong, stopped at simply strengthening the artillery posts on Ganghwa Island. He never dreamed of building gunboats modeled on Western vessels.

However, Japan understood the importance of military ships and set about building a dock and large ships that were used to defeat the armies of the Qing Dynasty in China as well as the Russian navy and helped manipulate the occupation and eventual annexation of Korea.

The second chapter is from 1945 to the present day. Korea was founded in 1948 and worked hard to make up for the years of arrested development during Japan’s colonial rule. Korea built expressways and produced steel and automobiles.

It also established semi-conductor factories and produced cell phones and LCD and LED televisions.

Above all, it built ships. Whereas the rulers of the Joseon Dynasty failed to build ships, the Republic of Korea is the number one shipbuilding country in the world.

Korea is doing better than Sony in electronics, and its automobiles are catching up with Toyota. Korea is number one in the world in many different fields of sports, such as golf.

The economic scale of Korea may be small, but Korea is better off than Japan in terms of financial deficit, unemployment and overcoming crises.

Korea is restoring the losses of its ancestors, one by one.

As for the third chapter, I am not sure how it will turn out, but we now know the start - the victory of the Democratic Party in Japan.

But if the party fails to promote a “new Japan,” the third chapter might turn out to be a damp squib where we may witness no major changes.

However, if Yukio Hatoyama, the leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, and the people work together to peel off the country’s old skin, the competitive speed of Japan will change drastically.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and after World War II and the country’s rapid development from the 1960s to the 1980s, it may be time for another Japan to surface.

After all, a political revolution is psychologically more shocking than an economic one.

The Korean political forces that have to compete against Hatoyama and the Democratic Party of Japan are President Lee Myung-bak and the Grand National Party.

But watching the performances of the Grand National Party, I cannot but worry over the prospects of the third chapter of Korea-Japan competition.


*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Jin

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