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The Asahi Shimbun/2019/2/11 14:10

Facing up to century-long history of knotty ties with Korea

A declaration was adopted in Tokyo on Feb. 8 a century ago by a group of young Koreans, whose country was under Japan’s colonial rule. The document, known as the “Feb. 8 Declaration,” called for Korea’s independence.
The youths who gathered for the event were detained by police, who rushed to the spot. The actions of those young people that day triggered Korea’s largest independence campaign the following month, remembered as the March 1 Movement, across the peninsula, which, in turn, inspired a popular movement in China.
The declaration refers to a deep thirst for ethnic self-determination. It says Japan’s 1910 annexation of Korea was not based on the will of the Koreans and stated, “Our people ... will definitely contribute to world peace and humankind’s culture when they have built a new nation.”
During postwar diplomatic normalization talks between Tokyo and Seoul, arguments raged on both sides over the lawfulness of Japan’s annexation of Korea, and the issue ended up being settled in a vague manner. That was a political decision aimed at purely prioritizing an improvement in bilateral ties.
That said, a 2010 statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which his Cabinet approved on the occasion of the centenary of annexation, stated that the Korean people were deprived of their country and culture under Japan’s rule, which was imposed against their will.
The issue of shared history continues to rattle ties between Japan and South Korea, as well as national sentiment on both sides of the strait. In recent months and years, new friction has flared, among other things, over decisions by South Korean courts ordering Japanese firms to compensate Koreans for their wartime labor and Seoul’s reluctance to implement a 2015 bilateral agreement on the “comfort women” issue.
There is, however, another side to history that should not be overlooked.
Japan and South Korea have steadily built up mutual cooperation over more than half of the past century that has elapsed since the Feb. 8 Declaration.
Tokyo and Seoul have deepened their socioeconomic ties under the framework of diplomatic relations they established in the mid-1960s. There have certainly been ebbs and flows of national sentiment on occasion, but there are enormously more opportunities now for personal interactions between Japanese and South Koreans in such diverse areas as business, sports, school education, tourism and daily life.
It is all too natural for one to feel disappointed when a process of reconciliation, accrued over time, has come to a halt or is reversed.
Given that, one should still face up to history as it is. Japan should not end its readiness to work in good faith on problems that have derived from its mistakes of the past.
South Koreans are invited to turn their eyes toward the bright side of history as well and ponder the future of bilateral ties.
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is seeking to organize a joint event with North Korea to commemorate the upcoming centenary of the March 1 Movement. It would certainly make sense to confirm mutual ties between fellow Koreans on the back of the recent trend of inter-Korea rapprochement.
Moon should, however, refrain from facing Japan too judgmentally and stirring up national emotions.
Along with lessons to be learned from the past, a cooperative spirit for carving out the future is also indispensable for the stability of Northeast Asia, which Moon is so eager to ensure.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 9




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