First, do no self-harm
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Any Koreans who go against the Supreme Court’s rulings ordering Japanese companies to make reparations to individuals for wartime forced labor are “pro-Japanese,” wrote Cho Kuk, a controversial senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, on Facebook recently. How can a professor of law be so disrespectful of the freedom of speech and diversity of opinion that are the very foundations of democracy?
In a lecture on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” in June 2010, Cho quoted the British philosopher’s famous line: “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Cho also said one would become a slave of intelligence if one does not bear any dissent towards a state or customs.
But now he is branding anyone challenging a judiciary judgment as a “Chinilpa” — a Korean derogatory term for Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese during the colonial period from 1910 to 1945. Under his theory, the two justices of the top court who dissented from the ruling should be branded pro-Japanese.
I asked an opinion of an international law authority. He said three fourths of international law scholars consider the rulings out of sync with international law. In common international law practices, reparations for colonial rule between states are settled through a packaged treaty that overrules individual claims. From Cho’s viewpoint, a majority of international law experts are wrong.
Of course, not a few Koreans and Japanese believe that the Korean Supreme Court has a point. They think that the Korean plaintiffs have a chance to win their suits against Japan in the International of Court of Justice (ICJ) as both Korea and Japan’s highest courts agree that the inter-government settlement though a treaty does not invalidate individual claims. But such a view is quite different from the views of a majority of international law experts.
What should be noted are the growing calls from Seoul and Tokyo calling for a settlement of the issue through arbitration or the ICJ rather than wasting time and resources through an endless standoff. At the moment, there are too many opinions in Korea. Some call for the dispatch of a presidential envoy to Japan or demand the Korean government first give the damages to the individuals and later claim them from its Japanese counterpart. But Tokyo will hardly go along with those ideas. Under such circumstances, international involvement through third-party arbitration or the ICJ could be better options.
However, the two bickering states should not cross a point of no return. During World War II, most major cities in Britain and Germany were devastated by attacks on one another. But two university cites — Oxford in England and Heidelberg in Germany, both home to prestigious academies — stayed intact. The two enemy states shied away from demolishing the centers of intelligence and education for the future. Even at war, the mankind must manifest a minimum of civility.
No matter how much they may differ on past and current issues, Seoul and Tokyo must keep one idea intact — ensuring security against a nuclear-armed North Korea. Chung Eui-yong, director of the National Security Office in the Blue House, hinted at the possibility of revoking the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) — a bilateral military intelligence-sharing agreement — with Japan, depending on the situation. He was suggesting that Seoul could walk away from the accord if South Korea-Japan relations fell apart.
The agreement was made for both countries to cope with common threats, including North Korean nuclear weapons. The revocation of the pact would be a bigger loss for South Korea than Japan. Japan owns six surveillance satellites whereas Korea has none, as well as six Aegis destroyers, four units of ground-based radar with a range up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) and 17 AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft, which enable much more advanced intelligence-gathering than South Korea’s. The Gsomia helps Seoul more than Tokyo. Even when citizens are angry, the government must stay calm. Some of the presidential aides in the Blue House must stop stirring nationalism and inflicting self-harm.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 23, Page 30