Courageous breakthrough neededRecently, I met with Yeouido Institute adviser Lee Byung-gi, who has been named Korean ambassador to Japan. When I expressed my congratulations for the appointment, he said a review of pending issues in Korea-Japan relations gave him grave concerns. The same issues witnessed 20 years ago while working at the Blue House as presidential secretary still remain. We all know he was referring to the history and territory issues. The China-Japan relationship is also tied up by the same issues, Japan’s shameless historical perspective and territorial dispute over the Diaoyu Islands.
In 2008, Toshio Tamogami, the chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, submitted an essay to a magazine contest. In it, he argued that Japan’s invasion of China was not without the understanding of China, but a mere response to China’s growing communist movement. And his essay won an award. Over the Diaoyu Islands issue, China and Japan have been maintaining status quo based on Deng Xiaoping’s position to “postpone the territorial dispute and develop resources together” since the bilateral peace treaty in 1978.
However, as the Chinese Communist Party was busy with leadership changes last fall, Japan attempted to change the balance. The Japanese government purchased the private lands of Diaoyu Islands. China’s fierce opposition continues until now.
The consequence is the postponement of the Seoul-Beijing-Tokyo summit schedule for the end of this month. China had requested the delay for two reasons. First, Beijing wants to pressure Japan by refusing high-level contact. Second, they are concerned about Premier Li Keqiang’s image; it does not help to be seen shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is increasingly turning to the far right.
We have expected 2013 to be the year of a new structure in Northeast Asia. As the leaders of Korea, China and Japan have been replaced, we hoped East Asia opens a new era as Europe and the United States are struggling. But the reality is going in the opposite direction. Shadows from the 20th century are still cast over prospects for the 21st century.
Last week, three cabinet members and 168 Diet members visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where Class-A war criminals are enshrined together.
Chinese scholar He Xiaosong argued that Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the shrine as a prime minister was an attempt to shake off the historical responsibility for the war of aggression and to pursue the coveted dream of military power.
After sending offerings to the shrine, Abe denied the history of aggression and wants to abolish the pacifist constitution. It is not strange that Chinese people say debts should be paid off with money, and a murderer should pay for his crime with death. At this rate, Korea and Japan, and China and Japan would argue over the same issues 20 years later.
But here, we need to pay attention to Li Xiaolin’s visit to Japan in early April. The president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries is the daughter of former President Li Xiannian and a childhood friend of Xi Jinping.
She accompanied Xi on his first overseas tour and visited Japan immediately after the trip. While she is to attend China-Japan Master Calligraphers Exhibition, she met with pro-Chinese politicians throughout her stay in Japan.
She has met with former Prime Ministers Yasuo Fukuta and Yukio Hatoyama. Fukuta built diplomacy of trust, playing baseball with former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and restored the relationship with China that had been frozen during Koizumi’s leadership. Hatoyama claimed the East China Sea should be the “Sea of Friendship.”
During the visit to Japan, Li Xiaolin emphasized restoration of friendship between the two countries. She quoted Lu Xun: “The first person to eat crab must have been a true warrior.” The saying is related to the ancient Emperor Wu of Han China.
The shellfish have claws and look scary. They make holes in the field and bite people. Emperor Wu sent warrior hero Ba Jie to control the flood, and he put boiling water down the moat.
The boiling water killed the crabs and left them red, and Ba Jie tried the sweet-smelling shellfish. So people put the character for “insect” under Ba Jie’s name to make a new name for crab. Just as it took great courage to first eat the fearful crabs, it requires bravery to restore relationship between China and Japan.
Crooked historical perspectives of Japanese leaders tangled the Korea-Japan relationship from the beginning of the Park Geun-hye administration. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se canceled his trip to Japan. Government-level response has to be firm. However, we still need people with the courage to try crab for the first time. We need to distinguish the far-right politicians from the Japanese with conscience.
While we say time cures all, sometimes time alone does not bring the key to solution.
* The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.
by You Sang-chul