Ahn was a martyr for peace in AsiaSince the Shinzo Abe cabinet was launched again in Japan, top officials have been making increasingly absurd remarks about Korea on a daily basis. 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 meeting, 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.