[Viewpoint] Time for Japan to return friendships

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[Viewpoint] Time for Japan to return friendships

According to the latest edition of Japan’s weekly magazine Shukan Shincho, Taiwan recorded the highest relief donations for Japan. Since the March 11 earthquake, the Taiwanese people have raised more than $135.2 million over a month, more than the American people have collected. The Japanese people are amazed that Taiwan’s contribution is the world’s highest, the magazine said, adding that Japan realized that Taiwan is a true friend.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Internet site has a pop-up window to provide information about the quake. Detailed information is provided in English, Chinese and Korean, along with the contributions provided from 136 countries from around the world. But it is hard to know from the information the exact amount of each country’s donation, though it is understandable because a chief mourner of a funeral would not reveal the detailed breakdowns of the money provided by the guests.

A March 29 report from Washington said the American people have raised more than $150 million, so it is unclear if Taiwan has actually collected more than that amount. But the enthusiasm of the Taiwanese people is clearly hotter than any other country. Taiwan has less than one 10th of the U.S. population, but it raised an amount equivalent to that of America.

As soon as the earthquake hit Japan, the Taiwanese people readied themselves to help. About 400 tons of relief goods from Taiwan was the first package from the world to arrive in Japan. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and the country’s lawmakers donated their daily salary and Ma appeared on a live relief fund-raising show on TV to appeal to the public to help Japan.

Just like Japan, Taiwan is also located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Taiwan has also experienced big and small earthquakes. During the 20th century, three powerful earthquakes hit the country, the latest on Sept. 21, 1999, when 2,321 people were killed and 57 were missing. At the time, Japan was the most active supporter of Taiwan. Japan sent 145 rescue workers, the largest group in the world, and provided $38 million of relief funds.

With both facing the threat of earthquakes, Taiwan and Japan share many similar feelings, but the recent drive in Taiwan to help Japan was to pay the debts that the country owed from Japan 12 years ago, said Liu Ming Liang, an information officer of the Taipei Mission to Korea.

Just like Korea, Taiwan was also a colony of Japan. After China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was transferred to Japan through the Treaty of Shimonoseki. From 1895 until Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, Taiwan was under Japan’s control.

Although the country experienced the colonization for a longer period of time than Korea, the Taiwanese people appeared to feel differently toward Japan than the feeling of the Koreans. Anti-Japanese sentiments were scarce, although some resistance activities took place at the beginning of the colonial rule. No major resistance, such as the March 1 Independence Movement of Korea, took place in Taiwan.

Rather than feeling the sense of losing the country, the Taiwanese people appeared to see the situation as a switch. The ruling class was simply replaced from the people from mainland China to the Japanese people.

“Some Taiwanese once said that pigs arrived after dogs left when the Nationalist Kuomintang Party took over the country after the Japanese colonial government,” said Professor Moon Myoung-ki of Hanyang University’s Research Institute of Comparative History and Culture. “The Taiwanese people were extremely upset toward the Kuomintang regime. That hostility probably brought about some illusion about Japan’s rule.”

Over the one month since Japan was hit by the earthquake, Korea raised 58.8 billion won ($54 million) in funds. It is the largest amount raised to help a foreign country. Even the victims of Japan’s sexual slavery participated.

The fund-raising drive probably would have seen an even larger outcome if Japan did not prompt anger in Korea by claiming its territorial right over Dokdo in history textbooks.

Differently from Taiwan, Korea owed nothing to Japan. Other than the pure compassion from humanitarianism, there is no other way to explain the Korean people’s support of Japan.

Money, of course, cannot measure a friendship; what’s important is the meaning, not the amount. The intention to return the favor is meaningful, as much as the pure heart to help someone in a hard time.

Japan no doubt probably feels the need for the relief funds raised in Korea and Taiwan. But, what Japan must also be grateful for is the friendship that people from its two former colonies have shown. It is time for Japan to return the friendships with its friendship.

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

By Bae Myung-bok
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