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Future of ROK-U.S.-Japan Alliance at Stake

Posted March. 16, 2005 22:06,   


The relationship between Korea and Japan has become more sour these days than ever. Direct causes are Japan’s claim on Dokdo, the controversial islets, and its distortion of history textbooks amid an overall rightist atmosphere. However, underlying all these is the two’s drifting alliance, and a burst of nationalism in Northeast Asia.

As such, to improve the worsening relationship between the two, a broader approach, transcending the Dokdo issue is necessary for the future of the triple alliance between Korea, the U.S., and Japan, and the conflict structure within Northeast Asia.

The issue of Dokdo and the Korea-Japan alliance-

One governmental official who has recently stayed in Japan said, “In the relationship between Korea, the U.S., and Japan, Korea is rapidly becoming isolated. The U.S.-Japan relationship is getting stronger, and because they are more suspicious of Korea getting closer to China, Korea is being left out even more.” He added, “Because of the Japanese government’s hard line stance, even diplomats seem unable to report the status quo to their Korean counterparts.”

Rep. Lee Nak-yeon of the Millennium Democratic Party, a top expert on Japan, said, “As diplomatic relations between Korea, the U.S., and Japan are weakening, obstacles are appearing before the North Korea issue and tripartite relations,” adding, “The traditional triple alliance is at stake, and as Korea speaks out unilaterally, conflicts between Korea and Japan seem to have worsened.”

In the past, when the three countries formed a solid alliance against communist blocs like China and North Korea, Japan, in a way, took Korean views related to the major issues into consideration with favor. Recently, however, as Korea pursues a more unilateral stance, Japan has come to dismiss Korea differently from the past. In fact Korean politicians and scholars visiting Japan often hear questions like “Where is Korea headed?”

Yoshifumi Tawara, secretary general of “The Children and Textbook Japan Network 21” made a significant remark as Japan’s representative reformist against the distortion of Japanese history textbooks. He said, “Korea is lukewarm towards North Korea, harsh on the U.S., and seemingly keen on intentionally harming Japan.” He added with concern that “the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform as well as ours has a small number of people in Japanese society. If Korea acts too severely, the moderate wing in Japan will turn their back on Korea.”

Masao Okonogi, a professor at Keio University and a representative Korea expert is said to have expressed his concerns to a Korean acquaintance, saying, “Intellectuals in Japan seem to have given up hope on President Roh Moo-hyun. They seem to think there is no solution.”

Even Democrats in the U.S., who used to emphasize the importance of dialogue regarding the North Korean nuclear issue, have converted into hawks. On March 9, when Assembly Speaker Kim Won-ki met with U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the U.S., Congressman Tom Lantos advised, “Unless Korea sides with the U.S., North Korea cannot become a Libya.”

Waves of nationalism-

Northeast Asia is riding a wave of nationalism these days. Japan is now on the path of becoming a military power based on the power of its right wing. China has passed an anti-secession law in a move to confront the U.S. should it decide to intervene in any future reunification attempt with Taiwan by force. The nationalism of Japan and China is based on the confidence that follows economic growth. From long ago, North Korea has proclaimed itself to be “a people of Kim Il Sung,” pursuing a chauvinistic form of nationalism. As for the U.S., nationalism is not dominant, but neo-conservatives (neo cons) play a pivotal role.

These surges of nationalism have intensified conflicts between the three countries: cross-Straits policy for the U.S. and China; hegemony in Asia, and the Senkaku Islands (Senkaku is the Japanese name for Diaoyutai of China) for China and Japan; the return of the Kuril Islands along with four northern islands for Japan and Russia; and the case of Japanese abductees for North Korea, and Japan.

Also in Korea, nationalism has been reflected at the top of the agenda since the Roh administration, such as fact-finding over past wrongdoings, reinterpretations of modern history, the disclosure of diplomatic documents between Korean and Japan, the revision of Status of Forces Agreement, and other issues. Lim Chae-jung, chairman of the Uri Party, said, “The Korean version of nationalism has been a defensive one to prevent war, which is different from that of the U.S., and Japan.”

Professor Yun Duk-min at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security said, “Territorial issues involve emotions, and even in European cases, disputes over territorial rights are common,” adding, “We should be fierce in the course, but we should pursue a multilateral democratic relationship without exacerbating the state of existing overall relations.”

Young-Chan Yoon Myoung-Gun Lee yyc11@donga.com gun43@donga.com