A small step for justice

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A small step for justice

Koreans who read the joint statement issued by 100 Korean and Japanese intellectuals on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of Korea might have thought, “Isn’t the annexation treaty already null and void?” They may have wondered why a group of wise men and women would present such a fact in the form of a joint statement.

But we should keep in mind that some Japanese intellectuals who disagreed about the illegality and invalidity of the treaty backed off as the joint statement was being drafted. This wide gap in the perception of the treaty shows the grim reality of relations between Korea and Japan. Even the Korea-Japan committee studying bilateral relations wrapped up its activity in March without putting the issue of the illegitimacy of the forced annexation on the table.

Against this backdrop, the joint statement carries more significance than ever. This year, Japan’s Minister of Administrative Reform Ukio Edano said the “Japanese invasion and colonization of the Korean Peninsula was historically inevitable,” the first reckless remark from the cabinet members of Japan’s ruling Democratic Party. Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, also joined the disgraceful game when he said, “It was the Korean people themselves who chose the annexation.”

However, yesterday’s joint statement made clear the illegality of the treaty by pointing out, “The preface and main text of the treaty are both wrong. Also there are serious defects and loopholes in terms of procedure and formality.” The joint statement emphasized that just as the process of annexation was unjust, the treaty itself is also unjustified.

It is especially noteworthy that the Japanese side agreed to the Korean government’s interpretation of a clause in the Treaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan in 1965. The clause states, “All the treaties and agreements signed on Aug. 22, 1910, or before are already null and void.” The Japanese intellectuals have agreed to understand the phrase “already null and void” as “null and void from the beginning.” This could be read as an indirect recognition of the illegitimacy of the annexation.

We regard both the Eulsa Treaty, imposed by Japan in 1905, and the annexation treaty of 1910 as null and void from the beginning. Even then, a treaty signed under coercion was defined as illegitimate according to international law. The Japanese government should acknowledge the weight of the joint statement. In a situation where Japanese cabinet members and politicians continue making insulting remarks, the future of relations between Korea and Japan are in danger of cracking.
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