Ahn was a martyr for peace in Asia
On Nov. 19, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Ahn Jung-geun, Korea’s famous independence activist, a criminal during a regular briefing, enraging Korea. The remark was in response to President Park Geun-hye’s meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi on Nov. 18 at the Blue House.
During the summit, Park expressed appreciation that the discussion between the two countries over the construction of a memorial statue at the train station in Harbin, China, was progressing smoothly. Ahn assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the first prime minister of Japan and then-Japanese resident-general of Korea, at Harbin Railway Station in 1909, shortly before Japan’s annexation of Korea.
When Park met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in June, she asked for China’s cooperation in the construction of the monument. The outrageous remark by Suga, the Japanese government’s spokesman, is a clear diplomatic discourtesy to Korea and China. It also worries us because we can easily guess the Japanese cabinet’s level of understanding of the history.
Was Ahn really a criminal as Suga said?
After firing his gun at Ito on Oct. 26, 1909, Ahn took out a Korean national flag and shouted “Ura Korea! [Long live Korea!]” three times.
He did not resist to be arrested by the Russian military police. When a Japanese prosecutor asked him why he didn’t run, Ahn answered that he wanted to lay bare the sins of Ito in a courtroom.
Ahn subsequently listed 15 crimes by Ito and argued for justice for his assassination. The Japanese prosecutor cowered at Ahn’s confident, sharp answers.
Because Harbin at the time was Russian-leased territory, Ahn should have stood trial at a Russian court. However, Japan ignored international law and held Ahn’s trial at the Lushun District Court, which was under its jurisdiction.
During the trial, Japan’s foreign minister at the time, Komura Jutaro, sent a telegram on Dec. 2, 1909, ordering the court to hand down the death penalty. The Japanese government pressured the court, fearing that Ahn will win the trial and be released. Ahn was sentenced to death and executed on March 26, 1910.
Before his death, Ahn spoke his last words: “What I did was for the peace of Asia, and I hope the people of Korea and Japan will maintain the peace of Asia by uniting and cooperating with each other.”
Ahn was a martyr who truly wished for peace and prosperity of the two countries, going beyond his fight for his homeland. Many Japanese officials who met him while he was a prisoner were touched by his noble character.
Let us think about Ito. In Japan, he is respected as a man who contributed to bringing the country into modernity. Internationally, however, he was an aggressor and imperialist who ruined peace in Asia. Ito’s Japan promoted the modern constitutional monarchy, but in reality it was a classic example of imperialism that expanded its colonies through countless wars with its neighbors.
Taiwan became its colony through the Sino-Japanese War and after the Russo-Japanese War, Korea became its protectorate. Although Ito argued that he promoted peace in Asia, the reality was that all the Asian countries would be united under Japan’s map. After his death, the idea was reborn as the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” And we still vividly remember how imperialist Japan acted under that concept.
Japan committed murder through an illegal trial, but it failed to grasp the true nature of the history and called Ahn a criminal based on the few lines in the ruling. Ahn’s idea of Asian peace included ways in which, not only Korea, but also Japan could live peacefully together.
Ahn, whom Suga called a criminal, is the man who deserves utmost respect from the people of East Asia today. Suga needs to have a new history lesson.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
* The author is the chief director of the Association for Commemoration of Patriotic Martyr Ahn Jung-geun.
by Ahn Eung-mo