Japan needs to come cleanPresident Park Geun-hye urged Japan to face up to its imperialist past and demonstrate accountability for its wartime wrongdoings in her Independence Movement Day address yesterday. Her speech offered rightful criticism of Japan’s growing assertiveness in territorial disputes and other justifications of its imperialist past amid a wave of nationalism brewing there.
Japan must contemplate why it still draws resentment and criticism from its closest neighbor even as 68 years have passed since its defeat in World War II ended the 36-year colonial rule of Korea.
Japan’s extreme right-wingers have denied war crime charges against the country, instead arguing that the Japanese were victims of the war and repenting for military imperialism would actually be an act of demeaning self-hate. The right-wing government has joined the extremists in more vocal claims over the Dokdo islets, which Japan called Takeshima.
Politicians have been exploiting nationalistic sentiment for their personal benefit with little regard for Koreans, who understandably still bear painful memories from colonization.
Thorny issues of contention, including Dokdo, the so-called “comfort women” and Japan’s portrayal of its past in history textbooks, stand in the way of progress between the two countries as Japan has failed to sincerely repent for its wrongdoings. Japan is clearly the perpetrator and yet continues to annoy and provoke the victim without any signs of atonement.
As President Park said in her speech, the perpetrator-victim relationship won’t change even after a thousand years.
Japan has often been compared to Germany, which despite its brutal war crimes regained respect in Europe.
But the biggest difference between the two is the attitude toward past wrongdoings. Since their defeat, Germans strived to make amends, but the Japanese have not.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida tried to sidestep the pressing issues in responding to President Park’s remarks. He said simply, “The two sides should understand one another.”
But for there to be real progress, Japan must answer for its past.
A country that denies its past can hardly be considered a partner for a future relationship. Going forward, we hope Japan will be more honest in accepting its past and pave the way for healthier future.