A vision for the next half-century
Over the 18 years that Park Chung Hee served as president, he never made an official visit to Japan. He stayed in Tokyo for just 30 hours in November 1961, half a year after the May 16 coup. He was on his way to meet President John F. Kennedy in the United States as the chairman of the Supreme Council for National Reconstruction.
President Park was scheduled to make a state visit to Japan in November 1972, but it did not happen. The visit was canceled in the aftermath of the October Yushin. His eldest daughter Park Geun-hye was supposed to accompany him for the visit. Considering the length of his presidency and his deep connection with Japan, canceling the visit was exceptional. He must have been sensitive about anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, which continued to build after the abduction of former president Kim Dae-jung in 1973, and the assassination of first lady Yuk Young-soo by Japanese-Korean Mun Se-gwang in 1974.
Park Chung Hee’s visit to Japan in 1961 paved the way for the normalization of relations in 1965. He concluded the controversial property claim to Japan by agreeing to receive economic cooperation from the country. The agreement was reached at a meeting with Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda and became the basis of the secret memorandum between director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency Kim Jong-pil and Japanese foreign minister Masayoshi Ohira the following year to provide $300 million in grants and $200 million in credit assistance.
Park Chung Hee rushed to seal the deal to benefit the economy and increase security. He wanted to secure funds and technology for the Five Year Economic Development Plan and to use Japan as a supply base in case of emergency. In July that year, Kim Il Sung signed a mutual assistance treaty with China and the Soviet Union. During the visit to Japan, Park met key members of the Liberal Democratic Party, including Nobusuke Kishi, grandfather of Shinzo Abe.
Kishi was the biggest supporter of the normalization of Korea-Japan relations. As a leader of his faction, he exercised great influence even after stepping down as prime minister. He pressured Prime Minister Ikeda, who was initially passive about normalization. When diplomatic relations were established between the two countries in 1965, Eisaku Sato was prime minister and the foreign minister was his right-hand man Shiina Etsusaburo.
Kishi is a symbolic figure in postwar Japan. He was arrested as a Class A war criminal for his involvement in exploiting Chinese Manchukuo and served as the minister of munitions in the Tojo cabinet. Once released, he became an anti-communist, pro-American politician. He was a champion of self-reliance and believed in Japan as the hegemon of Asia. He inherited the Chosu Domain’s spirit of “Revere the emperor, expel the barbarians” from the late bakufu period. He is a man of contradiction. No wonder he was called the “Showa-era devil.”
Another behind-the-scenes player in the normalization of Korea-Japan relations is the United States. The first preliminary negotiations in 1951 took place at the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers headquarters, with American officials in attendance. Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, said that he was not at the meeting because he wanted to be. Washington’s Cold War strategy was inseparable to the Korea-Japan relations. Park Chung Hee’s visit to Japan and the United States were a part of it.
Now that the descendants of Park Chung Hee and Kishi are in power, Korea and Japan celebrate the 50th anniversary of their normalized ties this year. Coincidentally, Washington’s demand to improve the relationship is at its highest point since the Cold War. Considering the moves at the end of last year and beginning of this year, however, a diplomatic surprise is not likely.
Seoul and Tokyo still have not resolved the wartime sex slavery issue or organized a summit meeting. Prime Minister Abe’s address marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war is also a variable. It is encouraging that Abe has said he would inherit the positions of past administrations, including the Murayama Statement, entirely. But we still need to see what he will say. Abe strongly resisted the Murayama Statement when it was announced.
Whether a breakthrough is made or the status quo is maintained, we need two things. First, we need to end the blame game. We have to break the vicious cycle of fighting back over every single claim that is made by one another. On the international stage, the diplomatic friction is only a war of attrition. The two countries agreed to cooperate in providing aid to developing countries in 1998. We need to let the common sense of the world, Japan’s dignity and the conscience of the Japanese deal with Japan’s historical perspective. The blame game may only help Japan’s historical revisionism.
Second, both countries need to think from the other’s perspective. Japan must understand that the past is a part of the present for Korea. Japan needs to be considerate of the pains and sufferings Korea still endures today.
Korea also should recognize Japan’s post-war pacifism. Looking back on the past does not open up a new future. In the histories of the two countries, the period of tragedy is incomparable with the long era of friendship. Korea and Japan have been neighbors who share the values of liberty, democracy and human rights. This is the starting point to find the vision for the next half century and improve relations.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 15, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Young-hwan