The apology of Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan Tuesday ahead of the centennial anniversary of the proclamation of the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty Aug. 29 has its limits because it failed to mention the treatys unrighteousness. In May, Japanese intellectuals issued a joint communiqué saying the treaty was invalid, adding, The annexation treaty was an unjust and unrighteous act, suppressing the protests of all Koreans from the Korean emperor to the people with military power. This movement has 545 Japanese and 592 Korean intellectuals as members. Scholars from both countries expected that the declaration nullifying the treaty would be included in Kans apology but the expressions he used were regrettably ambiguous.
In his apology, Kan said, As seen in the strong protests of the March 1st Independence Movement (of 1919), Koreans back then had their pride bruised and were deprived of their nation and culture against their will under colonial rule. In other words, he said Japanese colonial rule was against the will of Koreans. This is just a partial admission of the compulsory and illegal treaty.
The treaty was the starting point of Japanese colonial rule. As long as Tokyo refuses to admit that Korea was forced to sign the treaty because of Japans military and diplomatic superiority, true reconciliation of history is impossible. Japan insisted on the treatys validity under international law, but the agreement was nullified with the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948. Tokyo should have clearly mentioned that the treaty was forced on Korea, something which experts from both countries recognize. Japan has thus missed a golden opportunity to achieve a breakthrough in the complicated historical row between the two countries.
This apology was made by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which values bilateral ties despite attacks from its main opposition rival, extreme right-wing groups and even certain figures within the ruling party. The Japanese governments apology on the centennial anniversary of Koreas annexation is valuable and more sincere than the 1995 statement by then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which had been considered the highest level of apology.
Kan said Japan will return cultural artifacts, including historical documents of the Joseon Dynasty, taken by the Japanese during colonial rule. This is a symbol of reconciliation but it should not stop there. Korea and Japan should conduct a joint study to find all stolen Korean artifacts for Japan to return.
If Japan continues distorting history like this, Kans apology and the return of cultural artifacts will bear no significant meaning. On the territorial dispute over the Dokdo islets, Tokyo has stuck to its position and so should retract its claim over the islets. Japans distortion of its history textbooks is another major task, something made worse by the Japanese Education Ministrys decision this year to have elementary school textbooks say Dokdo is part of Japan.
The two countries share the common values of democracy, freedom and market economy. They must build a friendly relationship in the Northeast Asian order, which is facing changes with the emergence of China. Japan should also gain a greater perspective on bilateral historical issues and reconciliation.