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.