Erasing the enemy in your heart
The author is the editor in chief at the JoongAng Ilbo.
For liberal and revolutionary philosopher Bak Ji-won (1737–1805), 18th century Joseon was a suffocating prison. If he was living in our time, he would have felt despair to see a Korea that still ignores Japan, although it is the third largest global economy. Of course, he would have fiercely attacked the extreme rightists of Japan, who do not feel ashamed or guilty about colonizing Korea and violating its dignity.
Bak, whose pen name was Yeonam, wrote “The Jehol Diary” after he visited the Chinese Qing Empire as a member of the Joseon delegation to attend the 70th birthday celebration for the Qianlong Emperor in 1780. In that work, he used the Qing’s era name, Qianlong. Although the Ming Dynasty ended 130 years earlier, it was still influential in Joseon. Joseon was still using the year name of Ming’s last emperor, trying to act as if it was a small China. It was an anachronistic self-consciousness.
Bak evaluated Qing as a country that Joseon must learn lessons from in order to overcome its perennial poverty, instead of treating it as an object to conquer. “The Jehol Diary” was a critique of Joseon, which was obsessed with a cause and a concept and ignored the dynamic reality. But the book, labeled as rebellious, was only published in 1911 after Joseon was annexed by Japan.
In the face of Japan’s current economic retaliations, we must first understand accurately the true reality of our opponent and its intention. Japan is a country that is beneficial to us if we use it well, but poisonous if we fail to do so. In our rage, we can frame Japan as a savage enemy, but that turns everything into chaos. Japan understands everything about us as if it is a doctor treating a patient, so there is no doubt who will benefit from such an emotional approach. Therefore, we must completely abandon the labeling of Japan as an enemy for the sake of our survival.
We can have a clear understanding of Japan when we glimpse its reflection in a mirror called the United States. Although it had a war with the United States, it is extremely good at captivating the United States. The United States designs and decides the fate of Korea-Japan relations. As such, Japan believes it must capture the heart of the United States to easily toy with Korea.
Shinzo Abe’s Japan and Donald Trump’s United States are actually sharing the same objectives. No matter how hard Korea appeals, the United States refuses to mediate the Korea-Japan row. What are we doing to capture the hearts of the United States, although we have less economic power and fewer intelligence abilities than Japan? How should we comprehend the idea that the Moon Jae-in administration attempted to name Prof. Moon Chung-in — who was critical of the United States’ North Korea policy — as its new ambassador to Washington — before canceling it? How should we come to grips with the strange reality that Trump is actually hurting South Korea, an ally, while siding with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un? How should we accept the weird reality that North Korea is actually ignoring South Korea despite President Moon’s endless peace gestures?
Contrasted to us, Japan successfully makes the United States its friend whenever the need arises. We must remember what happened just before the Protectorate Treaty between Korea and Japan was concluded in 1905. In 1904, Japan dispatched Baron Kaneko to the United States and persuaded Theodore Roosevelt, who was his Harvard Law School alumnus. The Japanese ambassador to the United States reported to Tokyo that Roosevelt was a cheerleader for Japan. Not knowing the background, King Gojong of Joseon tried to seek help from the United States, but Washington approved Japan’s rule of Korea out of the need to check Russia in the Far East.
Over the past years, Japan has consistently sent messages to Washington that Korea was leaning toward China. The U.S. chapter of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation — established by a Class-A war criminal from World War II — effectively delivered such warnings to Washington on behalf of Tokyo. The Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA is headed by Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence of the Barack Obama administration. Japan’s way of handling the United States evolved further from what it used to be from a century ago.
Japan always uses Korea’s weaknesses. It based its economic retaliation on the Moon administration’s scrapping of a comfort women deal and his government’s doing nothing about Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate forced labor victims, which violated the principles of the bilateral claims settlement agreement in 1965.
Hardly coincidentally, Micron Technology of the United States, the third largest chipmaker after Samsung and SK Hynix, completed the construction of additional production facilities in Hiroshima. If Korea scraps the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan, the Korea-Japan-U.S. security alliance will experience serious trouble.
In Japan, some say Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened Pandora’s box. They worry that Korea’s semiconductor industry will hurriedly reduce its reliance on Japanese supplies. Japanese suppliers said they will produce materials and components overseas and export to Korea through indirect routes. If the current diplomatic standoff continues, both countries will be losers. Korea is also most vulnerable to the risks in a U.S.-China trade war. It must find the wisdom to get out of this mess.
Moon must send a clear message to Abe that he will resolve the forced labor issue through dialogue when he delivers the Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech. Moon must also attend the enthronement ceremony of Emperor Naruhito on Oct. 22. Abe must say that he will uphold the 1998 joint declaration between President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, in which Japan apologized and repented for its colonial rule of Korea.
In the March 1, 1919 Declaration of Korean Independence, we pledged to not act in the spirit of enmity to punish Japan. We pledged to work with Japan.
Japan is eager to be recognized by other countries now. If we treat Japan as a partner in economic and security cooperation — not as a savage enemy — the problems will be solved. I hope Moon forgives Japan’s narrow-mindedness and settles the matter from a broader point of view.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 12, Page 31