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Korea-Japan Relationship Going Sour

Posted March. 15, 2005 22:27,   


“We will solemnly accept Korea’s argument.” (Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori)

“Korea and Japan should calmly respond particularly in this situation.” (Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda)

Although anger is running high among the Korean public over allegations of Japanese-distorted history textbooks and disputes over Dokdo islets, Japanese leadership maintains such a composed attitude that it looks almost relaxed. Takeo Kawamura, chief executive of the Korea-Japan parliamentary federation and former Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, said, “We will do our best not to worry you (about the history textbook issue)” to Korean parliamentary representatives who paid a protest visit to Japan on March 15, but didn’t seem very sincere.

Japanese society is largely cynical of Korea’s protests. A Japanese professor argued, “The Japanese government has expressed its regret over past history, escalating its tone on several occasions. Nonetheless, problems are continuously emerging between the two countries, which is why the Japanese government became annoyed.”

Japan believes that history issues were solved with the joint declaration of a new twenty-first century Japan-Korea partnership, first established in 1988 by President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. Japan wants to no longer be labeled as a war criminal country, after six decades of such a label.

The Japanese media said, “The Roh administration aimed to ‘straighten out history’ in order to improve domestic politics,” when the Korean government unveiled documents on the bilateral relations normalization negotiations in the 1960s early this year. Japan alleges that that the history issue is nothing more than a Korean domestic political issue rather than a problem to be solved through the joint effort by the two countries.

“Why is Japan doing this?”-

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has expressed its intent to continue visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, to present a firm response to the territorial issues, and to revise the existing peace constitution. These resolutions are key policies for this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the party’s foundation. Stressing the importance of education, the LDP also said that it would revise basic education law to strengthen education on nationalism.

This means that distorted history textbooks and provocation on the Dokdo islets are included in the key policies of the ruling LDP. In this regard, it is fair to say that any conversation about the future between the heads of the two countries would be meaningless as long as the ruling party’s policies remain unchanged.

Japanese Foreign Ministry urged the parliament of Shimane Prefecture to refrain from passing a draft ordinance to designate “Takeshima (Japanese name for Dokdo) Day”. However, some critics say that this gesture is just part of a meticulous plan of the central and local political circles.

Shimane Prefecture is the home of two key figures of the LDP: Mikio Aoki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party`s Upper House and Hosoda Hiroyuki, Chief Cabinet Secretary, who are frequently exchanging opinions with local parliament.

Japan: “No Step Back”-

The rightist movement in Japan almost seems inevitable, as a post-war generation relatively free from the responsibility of the WWII emerged as leaders of Japanese society after the 1990s. This generation of leaders feels that Japan should be able to say what it has to say as an “ordinary country” just like the other countries, and get treatment befitting its economic prestige in the international community. Shinzo Abe, acting secretary-general of the LDP and a leading next-generation politician in Japan, Shoichi Nakagawa, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and Shigeru Ishiba, former Minister of State for Defense, are taking the lead in an effort to increase military budget for the Self-Defense Forces and to begin revisions of the peace constitution.

Experts point out that it was largely expected that Husho, a Japanse publisher, would intensify the level of distortion of its history textbooks over the past four years, given that Japanese society has quickly developed right-wing leanings over that period of time.

Won-Jae Park parkwj@donga.com