The hackneyed ‘pro-Japanese’ stigmatization

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The hackneyed ‘pro-Japanese’ stigmatization

Kim Dong-ho

The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Politicians are waging war over the provocative “pro-Japanese” stigmatization again. The resort by liberal groups to the stereotypical attacks on conservatives is too hackneyed and anachronistic. I looked up the phrase — pro-Japanese group — in the Korean dictionary to find out exactly what it means. It refers to “a group of people being friendly with Japan” and “a group of people who supported, advocated and followed Japan’s policy of aggression and pillage in Korea during the Japanese rule.”

Japan’s colonial rule (1910 to 1945) ended 77 years ago. Survivors from the pro-Japanese group are nearly nonexistent today. The attacks are apparently targeted at the people who are getting along with Japan today. Could they really be a problem? For Koreans, Japan is their best — and most convenient — tour destination, and for the Japanese, K-pop and K-drama has long enthralled them. After Tokyo resumed its no-visa entry for Koreans from October 11, Incheon International Airport bustled with Koreans heading to Japan. Obviously, they are not the pro-Japanese group.

The problem comes from Korean politicians attempting to distort Korea-Japan relations and fuel anti-Japanese sentiment among Koreans. Democratic Party (DP) Chairman Lee Jae-myung branded Korea’s joint drill with the U.S. and Japan on the East Sea as “extremely pro-Japanese national defense.” “Japan continues to claim sovereignty over the Dokdo islets. If [our government] invites Japan to the joint military exercise, it can be interpreted as recognition of the Japan Self-Defense Forces as a normal military.”

Korean wariness about Japan is deep-rooted. How many have forgotten the belligerence of the country that colonized Korea by force only 300 years after its invasion of Korea between 1592 and 1598. There would be no single Korean who fails to remember the country’s atrocities of the past. The conventional insults many Koreans inadvertently hurl at Japanese people reflect their bone-deep hostility towards Japan.
Democratic Party lawmakers — all members of the National Defense Committee in the National Assembly — hold a press conference, Oct. 12, to criticize the South Korea-U.S.-Japan maritime drill in the East Sea for being a pro-Japanese move to draw Japan into the Korean Peninsula. [JANG JIN-YOUNG]

But there are no eternal allies or perpetual enemies in the world. After going through three wars from the end of the 19th century, Germany and France considered each other as “arch enemies.” After the Allies extracted enormous amount of reparations from Germany to neutralize its war capabilities after its defeat in World War I, Germany in return waged the Second World War. A countless number of French and German soldiers shed blood during the war again. The two countries are leaders of the European Union now. They also raise the same voice about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In France and Germany, there are no past-oriented stigmatization such as “pro-German” or “pro-French” groups. Only cooperation and goodwill competition exists between them. The two countries have regularized their summit and a meeting between their foreign and defense ministers since the 1963 Élysée Treaty. That offers a solid foundation to confront Russia, their common enemy. The exchange of over 10 million students between the two also helped consolidate trust in one another.

Korea and Japan are still stuck in the past. In the Moon Jae-in administration, a senior presidential secretary sang the “Song of Bamboo Spear” — a popular democracy movement song in the 1980s — to encourage a public battle against Japan after Tokyo imposed export restrictions on key materials for semiconductor production in Korea in reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling for compensation for wartime forced labor. But the past government’s emotional approach did not help ease the restrictions. No Korean politicians urge the public to raise bamboo spears after the United States recently removed subsidies for Korean electric vehicles not made in the United States. That’s because they know well such an emotional approach does not work.

Before national interest, there is no friends or foes in the international community, as exemplified by the U.S. subsidies and Japan’s export regulations. To jump over such hurdles, there is no better solution than elevating our diplomatic stature and securing an uncontested technological edge. When North Korea is fiddling with a nuclear button against South Korea, who is our enemy?

No matter how hard Japan claims the two rock islets in the East Sea, they are Korean territory. Korea is not the lethargic country a century ago. Korea has become a country whose per capita income is reportedly higher than Japan’s, whose strength in chipmaking excels others, and whose soft power is widely recognized around the globe, not to mention its dramatic emergence as a key defense export country. For what reasons are its political leaders still chanting the bamboo spear song?

It is not the time to stick with the outmoded “pro-Japanese” narrative but the time to squarely face the deepening nuclear threats from across the border.
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