Pro-Japan stigma is tough to shake
The Korea-Japan relationship is like boiling oil. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), but oil does not change its state even at very hot temperatures. Cooking oil begins to boil at over 240 degrees Celsius. You can touch it nonchalantly and get burned instantly.
Last week, Korea acted just as mindlessly over a military information protection agreement with Japan. The government may have thought that it could put its hands into the oil slyly. But it got third-degree burns.
Still, it is just not normal for the Korea-Japan relationship to alternate between hot and cold. At least we should have more normal situations than special situations, but the reality is not so simple. Let’s look at the label, “pro-Japanese.”
In Korea, being described as “pro-Japanese” is not just negative, but insulting and disrespectful. For a politician, the pro-Japanese stigma is more fatal than an illness. Some three decades ago, being pro-Japanese was as bad as being pro-Pyongyang. However, the pro-Pyongyang tendency gradually became tolerated and the spectrum is wide, from supporters of the “sunshine policy” to extreme North Korean sympathizers. Being pro-Japanese is only taboo for the ruling and opposition parties, the progressive and the conservatives, South and North Koreans.
As the pro-Japanese label is widely seen as offensive, some comical incidents have happened. A few years ago, the leader of the ruling party who was raising his voice to legislate a special law to investigate Japanese collaborators made an apology and resigned from his position when it was revealed that his father had been a member of the Japanese military police during the colonial rule.
Political enemies condemned former President Kim Dae-jung for introducing himself as Toyota, the Japanese name his family had been forced to use, when he met his old teacher.
The Cultural Center of the Japanese Embassy in Korea hosted a symposium titled “The Present, Past and Future of Japan and Korea” on May 26. The day was the 63rd anniversary of Kim Gu’s death.
In the interesting discussion of the experts from the two countries, 84-year-old Choi Seo-myeon, an authority in modern history and head of the committee working to find the remains of Ahn Jung-geun, concluded the event with an insightful remark. He said he had attended the memorial ceremony at the Kim Gu Museum and Library in the morning and quoted Kim’s words. “After the liberation, a reporter asked Kim, ‘When are you going to punish the pro-Japanese collaborators? Kim Gu responded, ‘Japan is located right next to Korea, and it is better to have as many pro-Japanese as possible. I only want to punish the pro-Japanese who are against our own people.’?”
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun