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Despite Japan’s Concerns, Roh Administration Chooses to Redeem Past

Despite Japan’s Concerns, Roh Administration Chooses to Redeem Past

Posted January. 17, 2005 22:17,   


South Korea disclosed Monday five dossiers related to the South Korea-Japan Treaty in 1965, which seemed belated given that the victims of military conscriptions and forced labor have long requested its disclosure. The disclosure has been legally possible since 1995, 30 years after the treaty.

It is true that until now, past governments were afraid of possible diplomatic and political aftereffects, and hesitated to disclose the documents. Experts said that whether the disclosure would end up as a meager storm or spur an unexpected and disastrous tidal wave is up to public opinion within South Korea and the responses from concerned countries.

Background of Disclosure-

The government has argued that its decision was made in order to fulfill the people`s right to know and to improve the government`s administrative transparency.

The government already lost a lawsuit filed by the families of victims demanding the disclosure in February, but the lawsuit had been pending in Seoul High Court since the government appealed. It was between last July and August when government insiders suddenly started showing the intention of making the documents public before the ruling.

A high-ranking official said that it is highly possible that the leadership of President Roh might have influenced the decision, and as far as he knows, the president sees no reason to hold the documents from the public.

“It was the lawsuit filed by the families of victims that first initiated the disclosure, but from a political point of view, this decision could be considered as President Roh’s accomplishment to redeem the modern history of Korea,” said professor Yun Deok-min at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

Impact on Relations Between South Korea and Japan-

North Korea and China have opposed to the meeting between South Korea and Japan, which could be translated as an improper intention to restrain the expansion of South Korea and its trust building with allies.

The preface of the white paper of the South Korea-Japan Treaty published by the government clearly shows its intention to persuade its people by justifying the treaty on the basis of the security priority during the cold war area.

Meanwhile, Japan is known to feel burdened by possible aftereffects of the disclosure. When a high-ranking official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade visited Japan last year to explain the inevitableness of the disclosure, Japan was said to express deep concern, saying what if the Korean public gets the idea that the treaty itself was wrong and that Japan must take all the responsibility for it.

Upon the disclosure, some civic groups are planning to claim the abolishment or the revision of the treaty. Besides, chances are that the U.S. also could be blamed for pressing the signatory to the treaty under the pretext of the binding power of free world, which is highly likely to trigger subtle impacts on the mutual-assistance relationships among South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. Not only that, another diplomatic aftereffect is expected depending on what tactics North Korea adopts in its treaty negotiations with Japan, using the disclosure.

Hyong-gwon Pu bookum90@donga.com