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The damage done by Takeshima Day

Posted February. 22, 2013 22:28,   


Japan dispatched Aiko Shimajiri, parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office, as a government representative to "Takeshima Day," which was held Friday. Takeshima is the Japanese name for Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo. She is the first Japanese government representative to attend the event, which has been hosted by Shimane Prefecture since 2006. Japan thus rejected South Korea`s demands that it nullify Takeshima Day and not dispatch a government representative to the event. Naturally, the Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry expressed regret over Shimajiri`s dispatch and lodged a strong protest.

This year’s Takeshima Day has attracted keen interest from both governments since last year. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe openly pledged in his campaign for chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party last year, “If elected prime minister, I will elevate Takeshima Day to the level of a central government event." The occasion also was to take place at a delicate time, just three days before the inauguration of Park Geun-hye as South Korea`s first female president. For this reason, Seoul has mobilized all government and private channels and sent several warnings to Japan, saying, “If Japan holds Takeshima Day as a central government event, bilateral relations will face a significant setback.”

In consideration of South Korea`s stance, the Japanese government said it dispatched a vice minister-level officer instead of a minister-level one as demanded by Shimane. If the prime minister or a minister-level officer attends the event next year, what will Japan say? The issue is not the rank of the government participant, but rather the attendance of a Japanese government representative in the event. This act has made South Koreans seriously doubt the sincerity of Japan’s regret over past history over the past years. Seoul has demanded a stop to the move because it will dampen friendly bilateral ties that have developed over the years. This fear has been found legitimate by Shimajiri’s comment at the event that Takeshima is an issue of Japanese sovereignty.

Japan claims that its annexation of Dokdo into Shimane Prefecture fully complies with international law. But Dokdo was annexed by the prefecture in 1905, when the Korean Empire was effectively put under Japanese colonial rule through the forced Eulsa Treaty. Shimane designated Takeshima Day in 2005, the centennial anniversary of Dokdo`s annexation in memory of Japan’s colonial era, but this era was one of humiliation and disgrace to South Korea. To South Koreans, Dokdo is not a small unmanned rocky outcropping but represent a symbol of pain they had to endure under Japanese rule, and an entity that is like an unforgettable lover that appears in the prelude to a history that South Korea wants to forget. If Japan ignores this, the Dokdo dispute will further escalate.

South Korea and Japan have many complicated issues to resolve. They have countless tasks requiring joint efforts such as North Korea’s nuclear tests, a free trade agreement among both countries and China, a sluggish regional economy, the rapid emergence of China, and the U.S. return to Asia. Sharing the common values of freedom and democracy, market economy and rule of law, South Korea and Japan stand to lose a lot if they lock horns over past history at this time.

The Park Geun-hye administration will be inaugurated in Seoul Monday. Japan expects the new leader to restore bilateral ties, which have deteriorated since outgoing president Lee Myung-bak visited Dokdo in August last year. But the president-elect can hardly afford to send an overture to Japan amid this mood. Sentiment toward Japan in South Korea has considerably matured over the years, but even the president has little room for compromise vis-a-vis the Dokdo dispute. Moreover, South Korea will mark March 1 Independence Movement Day next week. How stuffy and uncomfortable that Japan has failed to make a wise, strategic and political judgment. Prime Minister Abe might have earned credit within Japan, but apparently has much more to lose internationally.

A country exists under the premise of perpetuity. Its glory and mistakes are both inherited. For this reason, succeeding generations should take responsibility for mistakes committed by the country in the past. These days, Japan lacks such a historical perception, and that its leadership refuses to recognize this is truly regrettable.