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Spring Has Come for Korea-Japan Relations, But It Is Hard To Feel It

Spring Has Come for Korea-Japan Relations, But It Is Hard To Feel It

Posted March. 10, 2005 22:35,   


Although this year has been designated as the “friendship year” between South Korea and Japan, the two neighbors continue to have conflicting ideas.

Despite strong opposition from Korea, a group of members of the Shimane Prefectural Assembly submitted a bill to the assembly Wednesday to set up a prefectural ordinance to designate February 22 as "Takeshima (Dokdo’s Japanese name) Day.” The bill was signed by 35 assemblymen out of a total of 38, and it is sure to be passed by the plenary session on March 16.

The Committee of General Affairs of Japan argued yesterday, “For half a century, Korea has illegally occupied Takeshima, intensifying efforts for effectual dominance there.” They added until the Japanese government designates “Takeshima Day,” a “nation-wide movement to occupy Takeshima” would be waged.

The Korean government intends to move forward with diplomatic efforts to prevent passage of the bill. However, if there is no change, it plans to come up with a stronger measure even if it would harm the relations between the two. Ban Ki-moon, Minister of Foreign Affairs emphasized on March 9, “The issue dealing with Dokdo is a matter of South Korean sovereignty and territorial rights, concepts which far outweigh our relations.”

In addition, on March 8 and 9, a Japanese aircraft and marine patrol attempted to penetrate the Korea Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) near the disputed Dokdo Islets on Tuesday morning. South Korean Air Force jets sortied over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea to send away the Japanese civilian plane.

Earlier, Japan’s senior vice education minister, Hakubun Shimomura, made a controversial remark on March 6, saying, "Education in a masochistic view of history based on Marxism-Leninism is taking place because of a legal clause that forces textbooks to conform to the consideration of Japan`s neighbors.”

It raises concerns that a new authorization of Japanese middle school history textbooks slated for next month will worsen the relations between the two nations. Japan’s rightists argue that the usage rate of “distorted” history textbooks, including ones published by Fusho-sha, rose from 0.039 percent in 2001 to 10 percent. A government official said on this issue, “That is because most people in the leadership feel less of a historical burden for past wrongdoings because they are from the post-war generation, and the overall social mood is turning towards the right.“

Meanwhile, the so-called Korean wave is gradually cooling down. According to a recent report by Korea Trade Center in Nagoya, sales volume related to the all-time popular Korean drama series, “The Winter Sonata” plummeted from 1.2 billion yen (about 12 billion won) last May to 200 million yen last December (about 2 billion won). Furthermore, in Japan, the public has been critical of President’s Roh’s remarks in his commemorative speech on Korea’s Independence Day on March 1. In the speech, he called for Japan to pay compensation for its wrongdoings in the past.

Nevertheless, there are many issues on the agenda between the two nations that require mutual cooperation, such as resuming the six-party talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Thus, many note that it would be undesirable for the two nations to have some emotional conflict, worsening the relationship between Korea and Japan.

Won-Jae Park Jong-Koo Yoon parkwj@donga.com jkmas@donga.com