Japan should return our artifacts

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Japan should return our artifacts

It has been a week now since a collection of centuries-old Korean royal documents stolen by French troops during invasion nearly 150 years ago has returned home under a presidential agreement between Korea and France.

We now hope that our cultural artifacts in Japan, including 1,205 historical documents, that the Japanese took during their 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula will be next to return home.

But according to Japanese press reports, members of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday decided to refuse to deliberate an accord pledged by Prime Minister Naoto Kan last year ahead of the Aug. 29 centenary of Japan’s annexation of Korea to transfer cultural records and items to Seoul. The opposition group has more or less made a statement that it won’t endorse the pact in the Diet.

The prime minister has promised to return the “valuable relics and books from the Joseon Dynasty” as soon as possible in a show of “sincere apology and regret” for the pains and damages suffered by Koreans during the colonial period.

Although Tokyo has set conditions for the return of the artifacts, using the word “consign” instead of “return,” we welcomed Tokyo’s display of sincerity.

We thought it was better than nothing when the two sides signed an official agreement on Nov. 14. But now the parliament is saying it cannot agree to the plan.

Some of the hard-core conservatives among the LDP have been strongly opposed to the return of the artifacts ever since the prime minister’s statement. They campaigned hard to gain access to Japanese historical books and documents held in Korea in exchange for the reparation by claiming that the agreement had been one-sided.

Simply put, their reaction amounts to a declaration that Japan would not return them to Korea.

We can only conclude that the LDP members’ opposition to endorse the repatriation treaty well reflects Tokyo’s insincerity toward Koreans. The weak leadership of the Democratic Party and the Kan administration also is partly to be blamed.

But our government should make its voice loud and clear and make whatever diplomatic endeavors to pressure it to realize the agreement. We will wait and see if President Lee Myung-bak will return from a trip to Tokyo next month with the stolen royal relics.
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