Begin with a common history bookPresident Park Geun-hye has proposed publishing a common history textbook for the countries in Northeast Asia. In the opening speech to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy at an international scholastic conference yesterday, President Park said that Korea, China and Japan could enhance cooperation and dialogue by publishing a shared history textbook, just as Germany, France and Poland did.
The proposal serves as a means to embody her Northeast Asia peace and cooperation initiative, aimed at addressing the “Asian Paradox” - that, despite the ever-deepening economic ties among China, Korea and Japan - political and military tensions continue to increase over nuclear issues and arms and territorial disputes.
The Northeast Asia initiative is a crucial pillar of “trustpolitik,” President Park’s signature trust-building policy she advocates for on the Korean Peninsula. She intends to change the conflict-ridden region into a peace zone for coexistence and co-prosperity - like the European Union - through an incremental accumulation of mutual trust by first tackling a soft yet meaningful issue. Despite the government’s efforts to gather support for her initiatives from neighboring countries and the international community, some political pundits denigrate it as a “vain” idea, without substance. The president’s proposal to share a common history textbook among the three countries is her first answer to such criticisms.
Of course, there have been government-level attempts to seek dialogue on history issues among Northeast Asian nations. A Korea-Japan committee for the joint study of history has published official reports annually for eight years, since its founding in 2002 after a Seoul-Tokyo summit. Academics and civilian groups representing Korea, China and Japan also have published a common history textbook on their own. Despite some achievements, however, they couldn’t narrow the gaps in their books due to sharp disagreements, particularly about modern history. Admittedly, our history academics even failed to address their own unbridgeable gaps over Korean history.
Germany, France and Poland could create a common history textbook thanks to the spirit of reconciliation based on Germany’s genuine regret for all the atrocities it committed. Their textbook was made possible thanks to sincere efforts by politicians to achieve reconciliation. But Korea, China and Japan can’t even hold a trilateral summit. The political leaders in Northeast Asia must wake up.