The Year of Korea-Japan Friendship

This is true: last year, both Japan and South Korea designated 2005 as the “Year of Korea-Japan Friendship” to celebrate forty years of diplomatic relations. Cue sarcastic guffaw.

A few weeks ago, the prefectural assembly of the poor rural province of Shimane on the coast of the Japan Sea declared “Takeshima Day,” celebrating their territorial ownership of the disputed island. Come now, surely you jest. That’s not very nice! You don’t own it! It’s “disputed.” After all, it’s just a set of rocks where no one can live anyway. How silly! That’s what you and I might think. It’s like when some legislature in Idaho declares “Creationism Day,” or Alabama celebrates Jefferson Davis’s Birthday.

What was the response in South Korea to this bunch of fisherman and farmers? Restraint, perhaps? A strongly-worded rebuke? Alas, no: people start cutting off pinkies in protest, marching in the streets, carrying out hunger strikes, self-immolation, and football matches have been called off because the safety of visiting Japanese players “can no longer be guaranteed.” It’s at times like this when Curzon applies his palm to his forehead and screams out, “You people are crazy!” Is Korea, as a nation, too damned amateur to even rule itself?

At first, the Marmot wrote that politicians in both countries were above the fray as they engaged in a “battle of nerves.” Alas, it was not meant to last. Here’s what South Korea’s President Roh had to say yesterday:

“This truly amounts to [Japan] justifying its past invasion and negating the liberation of Korea.”

Fortunately, there are adults on the both opposing sides. Said Rep. Kang Jae-sup, Floor Leader of the ROK Opposition GNP: “Many people have been satisfied by Roh’s remarks and basically we don’t oppose his stance… But I hope he would act in a more refined way.” Good, a nice adult statement. Rep Park Kun-Hye, leader of the GNP: “The ruling Uri Party and the government is now overreacting, forcing us ask them to calm down.” Thank you. The Opinion Page of the English Language Korea Times: “The biggest, if not, the singular, problem is: why should the president himself have expressed this?” And the reaction in Japan, first from Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda: “While thoroughly analyzing [the statement], we must listen to the South Korean government’s circumstances and argument.” Ahh, that was nice and measured. And finally, Prime Minister Koizumi: “I believe we [Japan and Korea] are unwavering in our commitment to developing friendship and cooperative relations in a future-oriented manner.”

But Roh has had plenty more to say:

There could be a hard diplomatic war… that may reduce exchanges in various sectors and cause economic difficulty… But we do not have to worry much about it … we are determined to take the hardship on our shoulders if we really have to.”
- President Roh, March 23 2005 –

Yes, keep up the struggle, comrade! Where do you recieve the inspiration for this morale-boosting rhetoric, KJI’s greatest hits? And people think Bush is bad. Until Johnny apologizes for pissing in my cornflakes from last week I am going to sit in a corner and throw temper tantrums as I please until he grovels in apology! More of Roh’s gems for your general amusement can be found here.

But Japan’s colonial rule was more than pissing in cornflakes! Right, it sure wasn’t excusable. During the 1910-45 colonial rule, Koreans were barred from using their own language at schools and forced to adopt Japanese names. But by comparison, it smells like rosewater. The Empire built roads, civil society, and a police force. Compare that to, say, France in Southeast Asia, China in Tibet, America in the Philippines, or Spain in just about anywhere in South America. The civil society left by Japan is one reason that Korea is so prosperous today. Indeed, the Koreans are educated enough to know what happened and be angry about it. Compare that to the history of the Congo. When the Belgians pulled out in 1960, the country of 15 million people was left with just 18 college graduates and no doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Is it any wonder that it’s currently in a civil war that has left more than two million dead?

In Korea, party politics isn’t a struggle between Left and Right, rich and poor, ethnic group, economic group, class, or religion. It’s age-based, with the realist, anti-DPRK older generation voting for the GNP, and the educated DPRK-sympathizing anti-American young generation voting Uni and Roh. I hope these temper tantrums are just a sign of that age gap. Not all agree.

FOOTNOTE: The modern history of the dispute, from Wikipedia:

The 1952 Treaty of San Francisco, which settled the sovereignty of most other disputed islands, did not mention the islands. On January 12, 1953, the Government of South Korea ordered the army to enforce their claim on the island, and in the same year on April 20, South Korean volunteer coast guards set up camp on the island. On June 27, 1953, two Japanese coast guard vessels landed on the East Islet, drove off the Korean guards and set up a territorial marker, but did not attempt permanent occupation. The Koreans soon returned and several armed skirmishes followed, leading to the sinking of a Japanese ship by Korean mortar fire on April 21, 1954. Japan protested and suggested arbitration at the International Court of Justice, but the offer was rejected by South Korea. After the incident, South Korea built a lighthouse and helicopter landing pad on the islet, which it has occupied ever since.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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15 Responses to The Year of Korea-Japan Friendship

  1. Mutantfrog says:

    You are leaving out many of the nastier things that the Japanese did to the Koreans, but this is all pretty irrelevant when we’re talking about a bunch of completely uninhabited rocks that are only significant for the sea territorial rights that come with them. There were no suffering natives of Dokdo (Takeshima) whose sacrifices must not be forgotten. Noone lives there, noone has ever lived there, and noone ever will. This is nothing but a dispute over economic resources (fishing rights, and exploratory rights for possible natural gas deposits), and for either country to wrap it up in a bunch of nationalistic rhetoric is just pathetic. Roh’s comments were just over the top. This ‘Takeshima Day’ was declared by an insignificant local government, not Tokyo.

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  3. asfdfa says:

    the island is more than an unhospitable rock … to the koreans it is a national symbol (PATRIOTICAL SONGS PRAISING THE ISLAND) … the victory over the first japanese naval invasion in which korea has won! The war crimes Japan has caused to the Koreans are equivalent to the Nazi’s & the jews (JUST NOT RECOGNIZED – BUT NOT FORGOTTEN TO MANY KOREANS!)… Many KOREANS were murdered with unspeakable TORTURE … Is it no wonder that Koreans are so extreme in their actions when Japan wants to take its land AGAIN? … How will the Jews react if Germany tried to take a piece of Juerusalem … And to spit on someone’s wound – Japan denies its atrocities to the Koreans and bribe them with money … To Japan Dokdo is just fish for food … To KOREANS its a symbol … They took advantage of us before … KOREANS WILL BE DAMNDED IF THEY LET THEM TRY THAT AGAIN!

  4. umetaro says:

    Looks like Korea’s in a lose-lose situation.

    Minister Oh made clear, “If we abrogate the Fisheries Agreement, our boats will no longer be able to fish in the Japanese EEZ, and it can bring about a collapse in near-sea fishing. We have fished 1.6 times more than the Japanese did in each other’s EEZs since the 1999 Fisheries Agreement came into effect.”

    also speaking of denials…

    and bribes…

    The Korean government seems to have screwed the Korean people on that one.

  5. Saru says:

    This horse has been beaten to death all over Asia blogs this past week, so I’m not going to rehash what we can all read elsewhere, cite arcane historical tidbits, or type out some emotional polemic damning either side for their actions.

    I’m also not touching your likening of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula to “rosewater,” though I’m sure Curzon, that you know me well enough to imagine my thoughts on this.

    That said, I will agree with you that the South Korean reaction to this has been, in my humble opinion, unnecessarily extreme. First of all, we’re talking about Shimane Prefecture here. Get a map. It’s Shimane. I’m just guessing, but I would say that to most Japanese what matters more than the possession of these rocks is the sight of such firey South Korean behavior. That is certaily going to make a greater, and longer lasting negative impression.

    Secondly, Koreans currently _occupy_ Dokdo/Takeshima. There is very little chance that Japan is going to use force to remove the Koreans, no matter how many backwater prefectures pass legislation commemorataing it. By all rights, it is Korea’s (and the ICJ would probably agree, and since the Japanese are willing to go there over it, why not take them up on it and end this mess once and for all?) Raising such a stink over this only makes the situation worse because the Japanese, so far, have been wise enough not to take the bait. Instead, they respond with calm and measured moderation, which only makes the Koreans look even more extreme. It seems that Presidnet Roh has fallen into desparately using this issue to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment for his own political gain (and possibly in connection with the campaign to criticize and flush out people like Park, whose father was a “collaborater” with the Japanese).

    The judgement, of course, is his to make, but it’s sad to see relations, which have been steadily improving according to the annual Japanese cabinet office poll, suffer over this. I should think that South Korea would be much better served if they just followed the Japanese example on this and just let the Foreign Ministry issue a statement declaring Dokdo as Korean territory, while letting spokesmen like Roh call publicly for a peaceful settlement.

  6. robert says:

    why does everyone casually ignore the fact that the japanese ambassador to korea made the same claim as the shimane prefecture. in effect, making it a statement of the national government and not just some hobunk town full of hicks. korea is responding as japan knew that it would, with the same emotional reactions that it always responds to in a case like this. it’s clear to me that the japanese government incited this latest round of problems on purpose. for what ends who knows.

    as for roh’s latest hardline speech, i see it as no different in spirit from koizumi starting to visit the shrine some years back. it’s an appeal to look strong and nationalist. you may call koizumi’s method more subtle but in effect it’s always been about being able to quietly say f-you to china and korea to give service to those at home.

  7. Curzon says:

    The ambassador did his job and restated his government’s position, that Japan has not given up their claim to the island despite Korea chucking them off fifty years ago. Setting aside my support for Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits, Roh’s latest hardline speech looks anything but strong: he looks like baby throwing a tantrum.

    And the biggest question is, why do Roh and his ilk don’t say a word about North Korean and the evil Kim Jong Il but bitch and moan at every chance they get about Korea’s friends.

  8. Adamu says:

    I don’t have anything really new to add, but I have to hand it to Japan: they’re handling this beautifully. To Japan, the issue has been settled for a long time — they proposed international arbitration on the matter some 50 years ago. So why not support some holiday designated by a prefecture? — they claim the island is theirs for some fairly solid reasons. That the Japanese government can knowingly fan ugly Korean nationalist chest-beating while promising to “restore trust” in the Japan-ROK relationship is quite a political coup, indeed. Nobody can say Japan lacks an effective foreign policy in this case.

    I agree with Saru: Korea should just back off and make some lame official statement to keep the status quo. Imagine what the next step could be: mass protesting at the Aichi Expo? A combination of zainichi and no-visa Korean tourists could make for quite a crowd. Neither government wants to see that.

    And anyway, despite all the idiotic protesters cutting their fingers off, this isn’t even the most important island dispute that Japan is dealing with. The Senkaku Islands have a much bigger potential to turn into something ugly. Saru: hurry up and write that paper!

  9. Adamu says:

    Hey guys, did you know the real English name for Dokdo/Takeshima is the Liancourt Rocks? Check out Wiki:

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