Japan’s biggest problem? BalanceAs I look back on the 70 years since the liberation and national division of Korea, I was reminded of the serious debate that took place in England in 1991. At the time, then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher strongly protested the idea of the United Kingdom joining the European Union because she thought it would be a humiliation for the great British Empire to be absorbed into Europe.
Former Prime Minister Edward Heath, however, argued that it was natural for the United Kingdom to join the EU, because the country was not competitive with its unemployment rate higher than 13 percent.
In the end, the United Kingdom joined the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 with a condition that it wouldn't join the euro zone. It was a balanced decision to protect the country's identity and think about the country's future.
Although it is also an island nation, Japan has a very different sense of balance from the United Kingdom. The Japanese people have a strong ability to concentrate. They work on the same occupations for life and become masters. They hand down their skills to the next generations. As a result, they have won many Nobel Prizes and become a wealthy country.
But the Japanese people have a strong tendency to lean to one side. They sometimes lack a sense of balance and have a weak ability to correct themselves when they are wrong.
Although the Japanese people care for each other and hate to burden each other, they always become greedy when they look outside the country. They often want to hold hands with a faraway country and attack their neighbors. And they think of this as ambition.
They have a strong sense of pride in and obsession with the identity of their nation as having a first-class economy, but they assign relatively low values to spiritual and moral identities.
Japan cruelly violated Korea during the colonial period. During the Pacific War, it trampled upon humanity and did not hesitate to commit unimaginably cruel and savage acts.
Of course, there are great and well-adjusted individuals in Japan. But in Japan, those people tend to hide their true voices when they are in a group. Collective intelligence and a sense of civic duty are also weak. The media often fails to check the government and criticize society. The country's ability to cleanse itself has therefore become weak.
In ancient times, Japan learned many things from the Korean Peninsula. But after adopting western civilization through the Meiji Restoration and building up its national power, it committed the Manchurian Incident, Sino-Japanese War and bombed Pearl Harbor to start the Pacific War.
Seventy years have passed since its defeat, but Japan still repeats three crucial mistakes.
First, it failed the opportunity to truly reconcile with its neighbors and build up its ethical and moral power. Instead of sincerely apologizing to the countries it had victimized, Japan tried to just pay money. They claimed that their economic assistance to the development of other East Asian countries was sufficient to ameliorate all their past wrongs.
Second, Japan failed to act properly during the foreign exchange crisis in East Asia.
In the region, Japan accumulated enormous wealth. When the foreign exchange crisis first started in Thailand in 1997 and spread to Korea, Japan only responded passively by hiding behind the United States.
East Asia clearly witnessed Japan's shamelessness.
Third, Japan failed to treat China properly after it opened up and reformed. Japan had kept its distance from China by treating it as a barbaric and dangerous country, and Japan's fear and resistance grew as China rapidly developed. It followed the steps of the United States and rejected joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
While China is having a party as a victor, Japan is regretting its decision. China has become more liberated. Japan failed to check China by binding it in a multilateral framework.
As we can see, Japan does not feel sorry because of its self-destructive prejudice and weak sense of balance and shame. Mentally, it is no different from a second-class country.
The most urgent task for Japan, therefore, is not escaping its two decades of recession. It is restoring the health of the national mindset and its balance.
In the end, it is the mind that rules the economy.
In the past, Japanese leaders created enemies outside the country when they faced trouble at home and tried to divert the people's attention. The Japanese people just listened to their leaders and fell into a wrongful war.
The Shinzo Abe administration is walking that precise path. Now, the Japanese people must correct the wrong. Japan, an important neighbor of Korea, should become not only an "able man," but also a "good man," and eventually a "free man" in the international community.
For Korea to accomplish its true independence, it must continue to strengthen its national power and unify the country's opinions to stand on a higher moral ground than Japan to face it confidently for a greater cause.
As a middle power, Korea must refrain from showing emotional responses and act with a cool head, becoming a capable and elegant first-class country. That is the way to overpower Japan.
Korea-Japan relations are going toward a new future. What will be the spiritual legacy the two countries' future generations should share?
In the next 50 years, the two countries' relations must not be shaken by selfishness and must be deepened by balance on both sides.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 14, Page 28