Japan Apologizes to South Korea on Colonization [New York Times]Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan offered a renewed apology to South Korea on Tuesday for Japan’s brutal colonial rule, as part of a statement marking the 100th anniversary of his nation’s prewar annexation of the Korean Peninsula.
For the enormous damage and suffering caused during this colonial rule, I would like to express once again our deep remorse and heartfelt apology,” Mr. Kan said in a statement, issued ahead of the Aug. 29 centenary of Japan’s annexation of Korea. The text largely repeated language Japan has used since the early 1990s in apologies to South Korea and other Asian victims of its early-20th-century military expansion.
In a sign of the difficulties this nation still faces in holding a healthy debate about the repugnant periods of its history, the prime minister’s statement on the colonial era drew sharp criticism from conservatives. Tabloid newspapers blasted the apology as “treasonous diplomacy,” while right wing groups loudly protested in front of the prime minister’s residence in central Tokyo.
In Tuesday’s statement, Mr. Kan offered to return historical documents and other cultural artifacts taken from the Korean Peninsula during Japan’s 1910-45 rule. Mr. Kan said he wanted to address the past in order to build a more forward-looking relationship with South Korea, a country with which Japan now enjoys extensive trade, cultural and political ties and whose music and television shows it avidly consumes.
The Korean applauds Japan for taking a step in the right direction, but is disappointed that it is only a step and not a stride like it should have been, on the year as significant as the century mark of the occupation. Most Koreans appears to have reacted the same way as the Korean did -- they have seen this show before, and there is not too much to get excited over.
It is commendable that this round of apology was not just words, but came with some level of specific actions. Returning documents and artifacts is a pretty solid move, and a step forward from the 1993 apology which ultimately did not amount to much more than mere words. But at the 100-year mark, something much more significant needed to happen. And it is not as if what Japan does not know what it needs to do. It needs to clearly address the big historical issues -- such as the annexation's illegality, comfort women, remaining territorial disputes, discrimination against Korean-Japanese, whitewashing its textbooks, and attempts to revise and glorify its imperialistic past (e.g. by attending the Yasukuni Shrine.) At the very least, it could have revisited the crass decision earlier in this year to pay 99 yen (about $1) to compensate Korean forced laborers. But none of this happened.
In this respect, the Joint Statement of Scholars issued by scholars from both Japan and Korea was much more honest and courageous, since it challenged Japan’s current interpretation of history. It clearly stated that the Annexation Treaty was illegal and invalid from the start, contrary to the official position of the Japanese government. In contrast, this round of apology by Prime Minister Kan implies nothing about the change in the official position. So, regardless of the apology, the emperor of Korea in 1910 voluntarily handed over his country without any coercion (like invading his palace and killing his wife, the queen) as far as the Japanese government is concerned. Reflecting this unchanged position, even the stolen documents and artifacts are not "returned" (反換) to Korea but are "conveyed" (おわたし) to Korea, lest the word should suggest that Japan was not entitled to take the documents and artifacts in the first place.
The Korean, personally, sympathizes with Prime Minister Kan. He believes that Kan did the best he could under the given circumstances of his domestic politics. In fact, the Korean believes that Koreans would be better served to recognize the segment of Japanese population that is honest and forthright about their past, instead of crudely hurling invectives wholesale whenever the historical issues arise, as some Koreans are wont to do. If Koreans give credit to whom credit is due, it would encourage those Japanese to continue their endeavor and move farther along in persuading the Japanese public at large. In that spirit, the Korean would like to recognize that Prime Minister Kan, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Senkoku were particularly brave to persevere and do the right thing.
But the fact that this was the best that Prime Minister Kan could do serves as an indictment on Japan as a whole. At the end of the day, the Japanese government is unable to make a truly meaningful apology and reparation because the Japanese people, as a whole, do not think their country did anything wrong. Indeed, certain segment of Japanese people are all too happy to brand the apology (which does not really change much of the status quo) as "treason," because they genuinely believe that Japan did Korea a favor by annexing it and Prime Minister Kan is apologizing over nothing. This is simply a stunning case of willful historical blindness.
This is why the Korean is not confident that this apology will have a positive impact that will last, even though he believes that the heart of Prime Minister Kan and many Japanese people is at the right place. Because of the considerable portion (if not the majority) of Japanese population that does not think the Imperial Japan did anything wrong in the early 20th century, sooner or later another thing will arise in Japan which will surely make a mockery of any contrition shown in this apology -- like the insulting payment of 99 yen to former forced laborers. That is a pity, and unbecoming of a great nation like Japan.
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