Shaking off the victimhood

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Shaking off the victimhood

Lee Chang-wee
The author is a professor of law at University of Seoul and president of the Korean branch of the International Law Association.

The Moon Jae-in administration celebrated the March 1 Independence Movement Day for the last time. But the scorecard of its five-year diplomacy with Japan is disappointing. In fact, the administration revealed its limit in foreign and security affairs in general, poorly handling the North Korean nuclear crisis, Korea-U.S. joint military exercises and the U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system. Its Japan policy was a failure.

Recently, the Japanese government started a campaign to get the Sado mine designated as a Unesco world heritage next year. That is the Moon administration’s diplomatic catastrophe. It seems impossible to improve Korea-Japan relations amid countless obstacles, including Moon’s decision to reverse the comfort women settlement agreement, Korean court rulings that Japan must compensate forced labor victims and trade rows.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pressures Korea to make a decision to turn around the situation by saying that the ball is in the Korean court for its scrapping of the comfort women deal. It is shocking that Kishida, who led the 2015 agreement as foreign minister, argues that Japan has the higher moral ground. The Moon government is in dire straits.

In 1965, President Park Chung Hee normalized the Korea-Japan relations. President Kim Dae-jung created a leap in the bilateral relations with the Kim-Obuchi declaration in 1998. In December 2015, President Park Geun-hye managed to strike the comfort women deal, which was received positively at the time.

But shortly after taking office, Moon reversed the agreement and faced criticism that he was politicizing the Korea-Japan relations. Just like President Kim Young-sam, who had vowed to teach Japan a lesson, Moon will likely be remembered as a president who regressed the Korea-Japan relations.

Conflicts between the two countries stemmed from differences in their thoughts. Korea thinks that Japan’s postwar settlements were not enough. The Korean people argue that Japan’s apology is not genuine and Japanese politicians do not repent their past aggressions.

Tokyo believes that the 1951 Treaty of San Francisco, the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and Korea and the following agreement on the settlement of problems concerning property and claims and on economic cooperation resolved the past. Japan said the comfort women issues also were settled through the Asian Women’s Fund in 1995 and the establishment of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation based on the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement. Therefore, Tokyo protested the Moon administration’s decision to reverse the agreements and Korean court rulings on forced labor victims.

In August 2015, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a statement that Japan has “repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war.” He, however, added that “We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with the war, be predestined to apologies.”

In December that year, Abe accepted the responsibility for the Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery and apologized. Japan argues that it has completed its apology and settlements for its aggressions and colonization.

The post-war generation, about 90 percent of the Japanese population, shows no interest in the wartime past, and Japan does not care about Korea’s repeated demands for apologies.

Korea’s further demand for an apology from Japan will not gain a response. Although the Wednesday protest in front of the Japanese embassy to represent the comfort women victims marks the 30th anniversary this year, Korean support on the issue is also thinning over the allegation that Rep. Yoon Mee-hyang had misappropriated donations made to the victims.

We must break away from our long-held victim mentality toward Japan and see Japan as it is. Korea’s per capita GDP is 78 percent of that of Japan in 2020, but the purchasing power parity already surpassed that of Japan as of 2017.

Yukio Noguchi — an emeritus professor at Hitotsubashi University and a former bureaucrat — predicted that Korea’s per capita GDP will be more than double Japan’s in 20 years.

Korea’s competitiveness is getting stronger than Japan in the digital era. The country’s competitiveness in the information and communication technology and in the cultural and art sector are proven. Korea-Japan relations must change to accommodate such changes.

We must point out Japan’s wrongs firmly. This year marks the 77th anniversary of liberation, and it is anachronistic to stay as victims and captivated by nationalism. We need an insight and wisdom of a leader who thinks about more pragmatic Korea-Japan relations. 
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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