Dueling dynastiesThe three new leaders of Korea, China and Japan are all scions of families with political heft in the past. In modern history, this is the first time leaders of the three Northeast Asian nations share such a common background. Their rivalry, which will combine both the interests of each nation and the reputation of each family dynasty, could reshape history.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of founders of the communist guerilla movement in the 1930s from northwestern Shaanxi Province who later became vice premier of the People’s Republic. In the 1990s, he served on the eight-member Politburo Standing Committee with Deng Xiaoping.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was born into one of Japan’s most elite political families. His mother is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960, who spearheaded Japan’s reconstruction after World War II. Kishi’s adopted younger brother Eisaku Sato served as Japan’s second longest-serving prime minister, governing from 1964 to 1972. Under Sato, Japan hosted the Summer Olympics and won a deal with the United States to repatriate Okinawa.
Kishi’s son-in-law was Shintaro Abe, father of the current prime minister. Shintaro Abe served as the foreign minister from 1982 to 1986. He failed to become prime minister because of competition from heavyweights Yasuhiro Nakasone and Noboru Takeshita, but is remembered as a fine statesman especially on foreign affairs.
The Abe family generated four prime ministers from Yamaguchi Prefecture, the political home to the Meiji oligarchy that set up the imperial government and gave birth to the Empire of Japan. The Meiji samurais, sharing militarist goals and imperialist ambitions, occupied the Korean Peninsula and charged into China and Southeast Asia. Ito Hirobumi, the first resident-general of Korea after the annexation who later was assassinated by Korean independence fighter An Jung-geun, also came from Yamaguchi. Samurai blood runs in the current leader of Japan.
President Park Chung Hee, the longest serving president of modern South Korea who rebuilt the country after the 1950-53 Korean War, Xi Zhongxun and Kishi, all had their brush-with-death moments during their tumultuous times in the mid-20th century. Park received a death sentence by a military court under the Syngman Rhee government on charges of running a communist cell. Xi was purged during the Cultural Revolution and was politically persecuted for 16 years. Kishi was among Class-A War Criminals until he was pardoned by the U.S.-led Allied forces.
President Park Geun-hye’s father and Abe’s uncle Sato in 1965 sat down for the tense negotiation on the 1965 Korea-Japan treaty. Sato had to settle the past with Korea to pursue the reconstruction of Japan. Park, facing enormous anti-government protests at home, staked everything on the signing of the treaty. With the $300 million compensation he won from Japan, Park industrialized and modernized Korea at a blinding pace.
The political descendents of political giants have to live with the influence of their family legacies. They are easily tempted to try to inscribe their names on the pages of history through some kind of achievements. America’s 41st President, George H. W. Bush, waged the war against Iraq in 1991 following its invasion of Kuwait, but didn’t go so far as kicking out the Saddam Hussein regime. His son, President George W. Bush, finished his father’s war by bombarding Iraq in 2003 and eventually capturing Saddam.
Xi Jinping, who is now in charge of the world’s second-largest and fastest-moving economy, is determined to establish a Chinese superpower beyond the economic realm. Abe is vociferous and aggressive in his attempt restore the glory of the Japanese empire. With samurai spirit, he rejuvenated a nationalistic fervor to push ahead with his agenda to amend the pacifist constitution and revive the military.
How can Korea’s leader compete amid such duels between China and Japan to revive past glories?
President Park places top priority in resurrecting Korea’s own economic glory. That is the strength of her family line in the contest among dynasties. Their common theme is revival. But she cannot win over Chinese pursuit of hegemony and Japan’s right-turn simply by building a stronger economy. She must beat them with a peaceful reunification strategy, a vision to complete a new Korean civilization by bringing together the 75 million people on the peninsula.
She included a roadmap to reunification in her national agenda. But laying the foundation alone won’t do. She must be more aggressive in initiating her campaign. She must entice changes from North Korea through resolute actions against the Kim Jong-un regime. The 25 million people living in extreme deprivation and oppression in the North would be liberated under one Korea. Park Geun-hye’s legacy would then be unmatched by Xi or Abe. Their dream may be glory and hegemony. Park’s should be the recreation of a civilization.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin