Dealing with Japan’s rightist shiftAs Japan shifts to the right, Korea’s future is at a crossroads. Since the launch of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party government, Japan has made repeated claims over the Dokdo islets, and its Cabinet members have visited the Yasukuni Shrine.
The administration has also made distorted claims over its military past, particularly in regard to the sexual slavery of Korean women during World War II, which has made the Korea-Japan relationship noticeably more tense.
But Japan is also now pursuing the right of collective self-defense, which will allow the country to counterattack when its allies are under attack by foreign countries. The plan invited vehement resentment from Korea.
Japan’s latest shift to nationalism appears to have come from its people’s frustrations over the “lost 20 years,” the concerns about China’s rise and the obsession to move past its lethargic economy.
By promoting “Abenomics,” the country is now trying to escape from deflation by making investments in public sectors and easing financial regulations.
Politically, the country promotes “active pacifism” to escape from its post-World War II system.
In a meeting with senior officials of the Self-Defense Forces in September, Abe stressed that the global power balance is largely changing at this moment, and declared his intention to reinforce the country’s military power to counter increasing provocations against Japan’s sovereignty because “Japan’s peace cannot be defended unless we play a proactive role.”
Japan’s choices put Korea in a dilemma. We face two problems.
The first is how far we can control Japan’s nationalistic choices. We can openly oppose and criticize Japan’s shift to the right and its militarism. We can issue particularly fierce criticisms over Japan’s attempt to rearm itself without a sincere apology and repent for its past military aggressions.
But that will only bring about a frozen bilateral relationship because Japan most likely won’t change its choices for some time. Separate from the issues concerning Japan’s military past, we must think strategically and with cool heads about whether a worsened bilateral relationship and frozen dialogue will actually contribute to peace and stability of Northeast Asia and our national interests.
Second is how the international community is perceiving Japan’s choices. We must read the international community’s movements objectively. Recently, at foreign and defense ministerial talks, the United States made clear its intention to closely cooperate with Japan by welcoming Japan’s attempt to reinterpret its Peace Constitution to exercise the collective self-defense right. In other words, it supported Japan.
To check the rise of China, the United States is trying to reinforce its alliance with Japan under the “pivot to Asia” policy. The domestic restraints of the United States, including the budget sequestration and the subsequent possibility of another government shutdown, also put more weight on Japan’s role in global security. The British and Australian governments have also expressed their support.
So now the ball is in our court. We have to maintain and advance a strong Korea-U.S. alliance and persuade Japan to play a constructive role, while having a strategic conversation with China to end the North Korean nuclear program and build a foundation for the unification of the two Koreas. To this end, we must restore the Korea-Japan dialogue to stop the bilateral relationship from ending up at a point of no return and urge Japan to change its attitudes before reaching a state of dangerous ultra-nationalism.
We should make it clear that Japan’s pursuit of its collective self-defense right must contribute to maintaining peace. We must also make it clear that it must never go against Korea’s national interests or trigger an arms race in Northeast Asia.
We have to persuade the Abe government to uphold the spirits of the Murayama Statement and the Kono Statement to face its military past, and pledge its intention to make necessary compensation. This is a crucial step to build a Northeast Asian regional community that respects democracy and human rights. Now is the time for Korea to use its political and diplomatic abilities for peace and prosperity in the region.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a chair professor for the Graduate School of International and Area Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
by Park Jin