A candidate for the Nobel
On Dec. 18, a group of 50 Korean politicians and societal leaders held an unprecedented press conference in Seoul. In front of reporters, they announced their intention to promote Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution - which renounces “war as a sovereign right” - as a nominee for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. A former prime minister, a National Assembly speaker and Supreme Court justices were among them in supporting the cause.
Experts in religion, the arts, academia and civil society encompassing conservative, liberal and moderate values have signed on to the campaign. It is unusual in a country where the ruling and opposition parties and the conservatives and the progressives remain fiercely divided. But all there that day said they represent Korea’s hope for universal peace.
In 2004, nine senior Japanese intellectuals, including Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, formed the Article 9 Association, working to protect Japan’s pacifist Constitution for a decade. Naomi Kakasu, homemaker and the mother of two children, started the signature-collection drive to nominate the Article 9 for the Nobel Peace Prize in order to make sure her children were not sacrificed in a war. More than 400,000 people participated in the grass-roots effort.
A decade later, a heated debate over Japan’s pacifist Constitution has been sparked in Korea. On July 1, in a cabinet meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a decision on collective self-defense, attempting to nullify Article 9 with a “constitutional revision by interpretation.”
Less than two weeks later, the Committee on Foreign Policy and Unification in the Korean National Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution denouncing Japan’s decision. Prime Minister Abe dissolved the lower house of the Japanese Diet on Nov. 18, and the ruling party won more than two-thirds of the seats in a snap election held Dec. 14. Abe also revealed his intention to revise Article 9 and security-related laws by winning two-thirds of the seats in the upper house election.
Article 9 is expected to spur worldwide debate in 2015, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan and the end of World War II. The question will be cast over Japan and the Korean Peninsula, and then expanded to East Asia and the world. Mankind witnessed the advent of nuclear weapons with the end of World War II, and the lessons learned from that tragedy boil down to Article 9.
Scrapping it means abandoning those lessons. Moreover, Abe and his followers don’t acknowledge the war crimes rulings by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and have fabricated evidence to deny the crimes acknowledged in the 1993 Kono Statement and the 1995 Murayama Statement.
Abe’s Japan is siding with the United States in the intense contest between Washington and Beijing. It’s also trying to tilt its strategic balance with the United States. Because Korea traditionally sides with the United States and Japan, Seoul is demanded to make a choice that may be disadvantageous to its own fate.
Furthermore, not just Koreans but also Japanese citizens who have enjoyed democracy, peace and economic prosperity for over six decades under the pacifist Constitution oppose Abe’s militaristic front.
I needed to see the Japanese leaders who oppose Abe’s direction for myself, so in September and November, I met with Japanese politicians, including former Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Yukio Hatoyama, former Liberal Democrat secretary Hiromu Nonaka and People’s Life Party Chairman Ichiro Ozawa. I also saw civil movement leaders, such as Peace Forum Chairman Shingo Fujiyama. They agree that the Japanese right-wing, including Prime Minister Abe, are nervous that Korea and China are emerging as major forces in the world and feel a sense of crisis due to North Korea’s nuclear presence. But they also oppose Japan going back to its old ways and believe Japan’s post-war accomplishments under the pacifist Constitution should be acknowledged while it repents and compensates for its past transgressions.
Many of them think the campaign for Article 9’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize would not be very successful in Japan. It may lack justification for the Japanese to nominate their own Constitution. They welcomed the idea of expanding the signature drive in Korea, as Japan’s pacifist Constitution is meaningful not only for Japan and the Korean Peninsula but also all of East Asia. Fifty Korean seniors have signed the campaign.
In Korean society, praising Japan or giving it credit is generally received negatively, no matter how noble the cause.
However, threatened by Abe’s military buildup, we need to seek ways to discourage it as well as we can. The existence of Article 9 is a subject of global debate that Abe’s militaristic pursuit must overcome. There also needs to be a serious discussion on seeking effective means to hold him back. We have ample reason in Korea to promote the campaign for Article 9’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, as well as in Europe and the United States. The best revenge is showing mercy toward the enemy.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 29, Page 29
*The author is a former member of the National Assembly and the head of the National Movement to renegotiate the 1965 Korea-Japan Treaty.
by Lee Bu-young