The perception gap

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The perception gap

Recently, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, held a discussion session titled “Assessing Japan-ROK Relations after Prime Minister Abe’s Anniversary Statement.” Panelists included members from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution. The speakers mostly agreed that Abe’s statement was enough. They were not looking at each and every word, but were instead interested in where the Korea-Japan summit meeting would be held. They also anticipated a dramatic three-state summit meeting in Beijing at the Victory of War of Resistance against Japan Day on Sept. 3. They revealed the United States’ pragmatic intention to not be caught up in the historical debate between Korea and Japan.

That attitude was also apparent in a survey of Northeast Asia specialists in major Washington think tanks and academia, who wield influence over the U.S. government and Congress. That survey - featured in the JoongAng Daily’s Aug. 17 and 19 issues, included pro-Korea, pro-Japan and neutral figures.

Few wanted to give statements after Abe’s speech, but only 19 percent rated Abe’s words negatively. Seventy-three percent said both Japan and Korea were responsible for the divide over historical issues.

When I was assigned to a post in Washington two months ago, Foreign Ministry officials assured me that the United States supports Korea. But the survey result shows that they are mistaken.

Michael Green, who represented the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the Heritage Foundation panel, said that Japan has most of the historical responsibility for its past actions, but Japan and Korea are almost equally politically accountable for resolving issues today. He claimed that this is how mainstream Americans view the discord.

Former Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Gak-soo has said that Korea overlooks the fact that the United States is unfamiliar with the history of Northeast Asia. Politics is more important than history to the United States, and as time goes by, the United States grows closer to Japan.

I don’t want to discuss the gap with Japan, which is more advanced than Korea in several ways. What’s important is the obvious gap in perception between Korea and America. We need to acknowledge that, and then get over it. Just in time, President Park Geun-hye seems to have shifted diplomatic tacks. A summit between Korea and Japan could warm the coolness between the United States and Korea.

The author is the JoongAng Ilbo’s Washington Bureau chief.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 24, Page 29


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