A small step for the futureA Korean-Japanese joint panel on historical research wrapped up its second term of nearly three years with a 2,000-page report that sheds light on some contentious historical issues.
The 34 scholars on the government-sponsored Joint History Research Committee agreed in this go-round to eradicate Japan’s suggestion that it governed Gaya, a kingdom along the Nak-dong River in South Gyeongsang, during the fourth through sixth centuries.
But despite the breakthrough in ancient history, the historians failed to narrow their differences over more recent events such as the Eulsa Treaty and Korean progress under Japanese colonization. Korea maintains that its people were exploited and their national identities stripped, while Japan claims it helped to accelerate modernization.
And sensitive contemporary issues such as forced annexation, sexual slavery and territorial disputes over Dokdo failed to make the agenda.
In a significant step beyond the progress made by the first panel, the historians reached an agreement on a critical difference over ancient Korea. Japan had theorized that the Yamato regime had sent an outpost, the so-called Imna Command Post, to govern Gaya for around 200 years after 369 A.D. The panel concluded that this claim was groundless and will advise educators not to use the word “Imna.”
Historians from both countries agreed that the theory was used by Japanese imperial leaders to justify invasion of Korea, which in turn may shed new light on Japanese imperialism.
The panel also recognized that Japan imported rice farming and metal culture from Korea.
Japan encouraged invasions and battles in the 16th century to resolve the country’s internal feuds and discriminated against Koreans during the colonial period, according to the study.
Japan’s history textbooks should reflect the new findings. Both governments launched the joint history project after Japanese textbooks - written by right-wing scholars and published by Fusosha Publishing Inc. - raised a storm in 2001 by including historical distortions that glossed over wartime atrocities.
History should be a scientific evaluation based strictly on facts, and not a tool for political bargaining. But there must be an agreement on the facts before countries can work together toward a healthy future.
European countries can now share history textbooks after decades of joint historical research. The committee has made strides since it was inaugurated eight years ago. Japan and Korea must continue to work together in the belief that they are laying stepping-stones for better relations for future generations.