Ignore childish Japan on Dokdo

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Ignore childish Japan on Dokdo

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Nam Jeong-ho

South Koreans instantly turn fiery when they are up against the Japanese - be it territorial, historical or athletic events. They hate to lose and become ecstatic when they beat a Japanese opponent. It is understandable, given the long history of rivalry and bitterness against Japan’s past aggressions. But it would be wiser for Korea to approach Japan differently case by case.

On the confrontation over the Dokdo islets, Gerald Curtis, an expert on Japanese politics at Columbia University, advises Korea to take a nonchalant approach. In a lecture during his visit to Korea last month, he said that the outspoken, nationalistic leader Shinzo Abe might not recognize South Korea’s sovereignty over the rocky islets in the East Sea that Japan claims as Takeshima, but nevertheless Japan cannot interfere with Korea’s effective control of the islands.

Someone in the audience raised his hand in protest, saying, “Suppose someone claims my wife, who effectively lives with me, as his. Should I just sit around and ignore it?” Chuckles were heard here and there in approval of the blunt and emotional association. Such an inflammatory response can be somewhat relieving, but at the same time it appears rash and coarse because it is based on a subjective perspective. There are more than 200 ongoing territorial disputes around the world. Britain and Argentina went to war over the Falklands Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean in 1982. India and Pakistan have engaged in wars and insurgencies over the Kashmir region for 60 years. Disputes over a group of islets like Dokdo are numerous.

To people on the other side of the world, the long-standing wrangling between Korea and Japan over Dokdo is just neighborly bickering. Publicity stunts, like splashing full-page ads in major U.S. papers and billboards declaring “Dokdo is Korean territory” won’t do much to convince anyone.

Attention-seeking behavior, often annoying, is a common trait in children. Children can become loud and boisterous to get attention. People sneeze or blow their nose to show they may be coming down with a cold. A child will go into fits to get attention. Japan may be doing that with these historical issues.

The best response to childish behavior is tactical ignoring. It is particularly useful when the attention seeker gets satisfaction from the negative response by others. But if their fits and noise get little or no reaction, they gradually stop. Diplomats all advise to tactically ignore Japan’s provocations on Dokdo. But the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is doing the opposite. It is engaged in an extravagant publicity campaign to tout sovereignty over what is ours. The Foreign Ministry has been pulled into Japan’s strategy.

What should be fought for, though, should be fought loudly and clearly. The comfort women issue is an issue that cannot be compromised. The forced mobilization of women as sex slaves during wartime is inarguably a crime against humanity. The lives of young girls were brutally violated and broken beyond repair. That is why there are 16 resolutions from seven nations condemning and demanding Japan to do more to apologize and compensate for its past involvement in hurting these women.

Nationalist organizations and politicians in Japan deny that force was used or any official government involvement in running the wartime brothels. They claim the girls knew what they were doing. But their argument cannot stand against concrete evidence. Jan Ruff O’Herne, who was born in the Dutch colony of Java in 1923, is no typical comfort woman. Her testimony about the ordeals she suffered is clearly backed by Dutch records about the Japanese invasion of the Dutch colony. She testified in Congress and wrote of the brutal account of her experience in the military brothels ran by the Japanese Imperial Army in a book. She married a British man and the couple are now Australian citizens. Through her, the comfort women issue has become a significant issue, not only for the Dutch but also the British and Australians.

Sexual violence during war has become a strong issue since the mass rapes during the wars in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Congo. The United Nations in 2008 began a global campaign to combat sexual violence. The widespread backlash to Abe’s comments may have led the outspoken Japanese prime minister to reverse his plan to revise the Kono Statement of 1993, in which the Tokyo government formally admitted to the military involvement in comfort women stations. Abe over the weekend said he stands by the Kono Statement, ahead of the U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned visit to Korea and Japan next month. Yet a government spokesman added that the administration will continue to investigate the testimonies that had been the basis for the Kono Statement. Even the rightist media questioned the motive behind the shrewd balancing act. Global leaders will meet in London in June to address the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones. The venue can offer an exceptional opportunity for Seoul officials to raise their voices against the Abe government if it skirts around an unequivocal apology and accountability for comfort women.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 17, Page 28

*The author is a senior writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Nam Jeong-ho


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