Ahn’s unfinished missionAfter Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine last December, conflicts over history are deepening in Northeast Asia. Korea and China resort to tough rhetoric against Japan since Abe restarted a culture war over history in the region. Despite America’s supposed pivot to Asia, Washington has its limit as a “balancer” of discord in the region. Despite increasing economic interdependence and civil exchanges among Korea, China and Japan, the conflicts over history will inevitably be prolonged.
The confrontation between China and Japan is serious as Beijing is engaged in an all-out propaganda war against Abe’s nationalism through its state-run media. Even China’s 30 diplomatic envoys overseas rushed to have interviews with local media to decry Japan’s provocations. A press officer for the Chinese Ministry of Diplomacy called Japan a “devil.” China’s strong reaction reflects the confidence it has built as the No. 2 global economy and its extreme wariness of Abe’s “assertive pacifism.”
China has opened a memorial for Ahn Jung-geun, Korea’s independence fighter who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the former Japanese prime minister and resident-general of Korea, at Harbin Station. Beijing made the decision after President Park Geun-hye requested Chinese President Xi Jinping to install a sign to commemorate Ahn’s heroic action. There is no end in sight in the simmering territorial disputes over the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands between Beijing and Tokyo. The tense situation is similar to Europe’s shortly before the breakout of World War I.
A primary responsibility should be borne by Japan, which puts salt on the wounds of neighbors who suffered from its militarism. The scars can be healed when Abe reaffirms the Kono and Murayama statements, which admitted to the existence of sex slaves during the war and expressed contrition for Japan’s aggression-ridden past.
The government must be careful not to give the impression that Korea joins forces with China on the history front. We have conflicts over China’s interpretation of the history of Manchuria, which was once our territory. A Seoul-Beijing alliance is a double-edged sword. We need to dwell on what Ahn envisioned a century ago: an alliance among Korea, China and Japan to establish peace in the area and a trilateral peace council, an economic community and peace-keeping forces. Korea shares with China the experience of the Japanese invasion. It shares with Japan the values of democracy and human rights. Korea must take the lead. That’s the key to completing Ahn’s unfinished mission.