Two nations, fates entwinedOn the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Japan’s forceful annexation of Korea, leading figures from Korea and Japan came together to talk about the past, present and future of both nations.
At a discussion co-organized by the Joong-Ang Ilbo and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, six men from the fields of politics, economics and culture agreed that a show of regret from Japan and a promise to work toward reconciliation from Korea is a prerequisite to the two countries being able to overcome their miserable past.
One participant suggested that Japan should, as a symbolic gesture, return precious Joseon Dynasty-era cultural assets it carried away during the colonial period. He also urged Japanese Emperor Akihito to visit Korea soon.
Another participant suggested that Korea and Japan build a 21st-century Silk Road by constructing an underwater tunnel linking the two countries to give Japanese people a land route from Tokyo to London.
Many of these points were valuable. Now it’s up to the government to turn some of these good ideas into a foundation upon which the two countries can build a future of genuine friendliness and cooperation for the next 100 years.
The two countries have long exchanged culture and technology across the narrow Korea Strait. Japan received from ancient Korea the technology to make steel and then repaid the debt by providing crucial financial support to build Posco, now one of the top-ranking steelmakers in the world.
The two countries sometimes compete or cooperate with one another in the world market, but only when all three entities in the region - Korea, Japan and China - learn to work together can a new Asian age begin.
To that end, Takeshi Umehara, emeritus professor of Tokyo Metropolitan University, urged the Japanese government to reflect on its actions and called on China to overcome its desire for power.
There is a famous Korean proverb that says, “Even when you have a thousand beads, they cannot become valuable unless you string them together.”
Similarly, no matter how many good ideas one has, they will be useless unless they are put into action. Will Japan be willing to do that? The Japanese administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is still teaching students that the Dokdo islets are Japanese territory, in spite of his earlier promise to confront historical truths.
The door to a new century will open only when Japan reflects and responds to its past, and when Korea reciprocates with open arms in a gesture of pardon and reconciliation.