Monday, May 10, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Korean and Japanese Scholars Issue Joint Statement on History

While the Korean has been consistently critical of Japan's efforts to revise its imperialist past, he will also give credit when credit is due. This is a big step for an improved relationship between Korea and Japan:
Korea-Japan Intellectuals: "Korea-Japan Annexation Was Null and Void From the Start"

Ko Eun, Oe Kenzaburo and 200 others make a joint statement
"Act of military oppression which was unjust and wrong."

Public intellectuals of both Korea and Japan issued a joint statement that Korea-Japan Annexation which Japan forcibly committed was never valid. The 200 representative public intellectuals of Korea (including poet Kim Ji-Ha and professors emeritus Baek Nak-Cheong and Lee Tae-Jin of Seoul National University) and Japan (including Nobel Laureate writer Oe Kenzaburo and professor emeritus of Wada Haruki of Tokyo University,) simultaneously issued "Joint Statement of Korea-Japan Intellectuals," which declared that the Annexation Treaty was never valid, in Seoul and Tokyo on the 10th.

The statement, issued in consideration of the 100 year anniversary of Japan's forcible annexation of Korea, declared: "The annexation of Korea, actualized by using the military might to suppress the vigorous resistance of every person of the Empire of Korea from the emperor down to the public, was literally an act of imperialism that was unjust and wrong."

The statement also declared that: "The preamble of the treaty is a lie, and so is the body of the treaty; furthermore, there are serious defects and shortcomings in the process and formality of entering into the treaty," and that: "As the process that led to Korea's annexation was unjust and wrong, so was the Japan-Korean Annexation Treaty." With respect to the "already null and void" clause in the Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and Republic of Korea of 1965, over which Korea and Japan have had differing interpretation, the statement said: "Korea's interpretation should be accepted as the mutual opinion."

Kim Young-Ho, president of Yuhan University who led the issuance of the joint statement said: "This statement went through five rounds of compromise between Korea's draft and Japan's draft, which involved a passionate debate over each and every word by experts of both countries," and assessed that "This joint statement will go toward removing the cloud that hangs between Japan and Korea."

From Korea, one hundred intellectuals including poet Ko Eun, President of Yuhan University Kim Young-Ho, poet Kim Ji-Ha, Board President of World Peace Forum Kim Jin-Hyeon, Executive Director of Hope Productions Park Won-Soon, Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University Baek Nak-Cheong, Professor Emeritus of Seoul National University Lee Tae-Jin signed the statement. From Japan, one hundred major intellectuals including Professor Emeritus of Tokyo University Wada Haruki, Oe Kenzaburo, Sakamoto Yoshikazu, Mitani Taiichiro, Miyazaki Isamu signed the statement.

韓·日 지식인 "한일병합은 원천무효" [MK Business News]

A little more explanation is necessary for the "null and void" issue. In the Basic Treaty that restored the relationship between Korea and Japan, Article II says: "It is confirmed that all treaties or agreements concluded between the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Korea on or before August 22, 1910 are already null and void." Korea and Japan so far had different interpretations of the "already null and void" portion of this language. Pursuant to the clause, Korean government has considered the Annexation Treaty to be the result of Japan's imperialism and therefore was never valid. In contrast, Japanese government has considered the Annexation Treaty to have been entered freely between two equal parties. With this statement, the public intellectuals of Japan made it clear that Japanese government has been taking an incorrect position on the Basic Treaty.

The full statement in Korean is available here. The translation is available after the jump. The Korean absolutely loves the statement -- it is clean and honest, expressing only the necessary sentiments of outrage and penance. Huge credit is due to the scholars who led the effort, and in particular to those Japanese scholars who took an important step toward the final reconciliation between Japan and Korea.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at

This is the translation of the Joint Statement, done by the Korean. For lesser-known historical events, the Korean added a link to Wikipedia for context.

Pay a special attention to how the statement specifically refers to America's apology to Hawaii in 1993. The Korean has always said that America's moral authority is what makes it strong (and abandoning the moral authority makes it weak,) and here is a great example.

Joint Statement of the Intellectuals of Korea and Japan Around the Centennial of Korea's Annexation

On August 29, 1910, the Empire of Japan declared that the Empire of Korea was to be obliterated from the earth, and the Korean Peninsula would be annexed into the territory of Japan. In welcoming the 2010, one hundred years after the event, we consider it to be important to confirm the shared viewpoints between the governments and the people of Korea and Japan as to how that annexation was achieved and how to view the Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty. This issue is the core of the historical problem between the two countries, and the foundation for the mutual reconciliation and cooperation.

So far, the scholars of history of the two countries clearly revealed that Japan's annexation of Korea is a result created by the Japanese government's long-term policy of aggression, Japanese military's repeated acts of forcible occupation, the murder of Empress Myeongseong, the threats against the king and the members of the government, and the suppression of Korean people's resistance in reaction to the foregoing.

In 1875, the modern Japanese nation sent a naval ship to Ganghwa-do Island and engaged in a military operation to attack and occupy a fortress. In the following year, Japan sent a special envoy to Korea, forcing upon it an unequal treaty and the opening of ports. In 1894, when the Qing Dynasty army was issued in response to a major peasant rebellion in Joseon, Japan issued a massive army and occupied Seoul. It occupied the palace, imprisoned the king and the queen and began the Sino-Japanese War by attacking the Chinese military. Meanwhile, it also suppressed by force Korea's peasant army who resisted. Victorious from the Sino-Japanese War, Japan was successful in driving Qing Dynasty out from Korea, but it had to return the Liaodong Peninsula that it gained as a spoils of the war due to the Triple Intervention. Facing this result, Japan, concerned with the possibility of losing the foothold in Korea it had secured until that point, murdered Queen Min in order to terrorize the king. When King Gojong asked for protection from the Russian Embassy, Japan attempted to settle the situation by negotiating with Russia.

However, after Russia occupied Manchuria due to the Boxer Rebellion, in 1903 Japan demanded Russia to recognize the entire Korea as Japan's protectorate in response. When Russia refused, Japan decided to wage war; in 1904, it sent a massive army into the Empire of Korea, which had declared neutrality in the war, occupying Seoul. With the pressure from the occupying army, on February 23, Japan forced Korea to ratify Japan-Korea Protocol which served as the first step toward turning Korea into a protectorate. Russo-Japanese War concluded in Japan's victory, and Japan made Russia to recognize Japan's rule over Korea in Portsmouth Treaty. On November 18, 1905, Ito Hirobumi, a special envoy from the Japanese Emperor, through alternating use of threats and persuasion, forced Korea's entry into Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty which robbed Korea of its power of diplomacy. While the Righteous Army was rebelling in various parts of Korea, Emperor Gojong sent an endorsed letter to various heads of state, writing that the treaty was forcibly entered into and was therefore ineffective. Governor Ito Hirobumi sought to hold Emperor Gojong responsible for sending a special envoy to the Hague Convention of 1907; Ito forced the emperor to abdicate, and disbanded the Korean military. Simultaneously, on July 24, Japan forced Korea to enter into Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1907, taking over the supervision of Korea's internal affairs as well. The Righteous Army Movement arose in a massive scale in response to such invasion by Japan; as Japan was suppressing the Righteous Army Movement, it proceeded to annex Korea in 1910.

As seen from the foregoing, the annexation of Korea, actualized by using the military might to suppress the vigorous resistance of every person of the Empire of Korea from the emperor down to the public, was literally an act of imperialism, an act that was unjust and wrong.

The declaration of Korea's annexation by the nation of Japan is explained pursuant to the Annexation Treaty dated August 22, 1910. The preamble of the treaty explains that the emperors of Japan and Korea wished for an intimate relation between the two countries, were convinced that there is no better alternative than annexing Korea to Japan in order to permanently secure mutual happiness and peace in East Asia, and decided to entire into the instant treaty. Also, Article 1 of the treaty states: "His Majesty the Emperor of Korea makes the complete and permanent cession to His Majesty the Emperor of Japan of all rights of sovereignty over the whole of Korea," and Article 2 states: "His Majesty the Emperor of Japan accepts the cession mentioned in the preceding article and consents to the complete annexation of Korea to the Empire of Japan."

Here, the historical truth of the annexation, which by force trampled upon the will of the people, is covered and hidden by a myth featuring two equal parties and a voluntary agreement, in which the Emperor of Korea petitioned Japan for a transfer to sovereignty and the Emperor of Japan accepting, by consenting to Korea's annexation. The preamble of the treaty is a lie, and so is the body of the treaty; furthermore, there are serious defects and shortcomings in the process and formality of entering into the treaty.

As the process that led to Korea's annexation was unjust and wrong, so was the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty.

As the Empire of Japan met its demise at the end of the war of aggression, Korea escaped from Japan's colonial rule in 1945. Republic of Korea, established in the southern part of the liberated Korean Peninsula, and Japan established a relation in 1965. Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea ("Basic Treaty"), entered into then, declared in Article 2 that all treaties or agreements concluded between the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Korea on or before August 22, 1910 are already null and void. However, the interpretation of this clause differed between Korea and Japan.

The Japanese government has interpreted that the treaties, such as the Annexation Treaty, were valid when entered into, and were made invalid due to the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948. With respect to this clause, the Korean government has interpreted that the unjust and wrong treaties, "the products of Japan's expansionism of the past," were illegal and invalid from their beginning.

Looking back from the perspective gained from the facts about the history of the annexation that have been revealed so far as well as the analysis without distortion, Japan's interpretation is already untenable. The Annexation Treaty and other treaties were unjust and wrong from the start. Therefore, Korea's interpretation that the treaties were originally null and void must be accepted as the common view.

To date, the recognition of colonial rule has progressed in Japan also, however gradually. The new recognition was revealed in the 1990s, through Address by Minister of Foreign Affairs Kono Yohei (1993), Address by Prime Minister Murayama (1995), Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration (1998), Pyongyang Declaration between North Korea and Japan (2002), and so on. In particular, through Prime Minister Address by Murayama in 1995, the Japanese government expressed "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" for "tremendous damage and suffering" caused by "its colonial rule."

Also, Prime Minister Murayama, at the Budget Committee meeting of the House of Representatives held on October 13, 1995, replied regarding the Annexation Treaty that "I do not think the two parties were on an equal footing"; on the same day at a press conference, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nosaka Koken also admitted that "Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty was ... extremely forcible." On November 14, Prime Minister Murayama emphasized in a letter to President Kim Young-Sam of Korea that, as to the Annexation Treaty and the treaties preceding it, "there is no doubt that they were treaties of the Age of Imperialism, not recognizing the people's self-determination and dignity."

The foundation prepared here, having undergone various trials and examinations thereafter, enables the Japanese government to make an official determination regarding the annexation and the Annexation Treaty, and correct the interpretation of the Article 2 of the Basic Treaty. The American Congress also adopted a resolution that recognized to be an "illegal act" and apologized for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom, which served as a precursor to Hawaii's annexation, one hundred years after the event in 1993. This year, there are a number of efforts in the scholarship of international law regarding anti-humanitarian crime and colonial crime. Now even in Japan, accepting the new wind of justice, an era in which Japan becomes fundamentally penitent over the history of invasion, annexation and colonial rule is coming.

Facing the centennial of Korea's annexation, this is the common perspective of history that we share. Based on this common perspective of history, the many problems between Korea and Japan originating from history can be resolved through mutual effort. The process necessary for reconciliation must progress with heightened self-awareness.

To strengthen the common perspective of history, the material regarding the historical relations between Japan and Korea for the last hundred plus years must be made public without any concealment. In particular, the Japanese government, which monopolized the creation of recorded documents during the colonial rule, has a duty to actively collect historical materials and make them public.

Crime must beg for forgiveness, and forgiveness must be bestowed. Pain must be healed, and damages must be repaid. All barbaric acts, including the mass murder of Korean residents in Japan during the Kanto Earthquake, must be examined repeatedly. We are not yet in a situation in which it can be said that the issue of Japanese military's Comfort Women has been resolved. We urge the Japanese government, corporations and people to actively respond to the consolation and medical assistance for forced laborers and conscripted soldiers and their families that the Korean government began.

Issues in which the two countries are in opposition must advance toward resolution without delay, while reflecting on the past and gazing toward the future. The normalization of relations between Japan and the other country present in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, must also advance on this centennial year of the annexation.

Through this, Korea and Japan will be able to open the new century based on true reconciliation and friendship. We request that this spirit is widely announced to the governments and the people of Korea and Japan, and that they solemnly accept it.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Dear Korea and Japan,

    I would like more of these sort of joint statements please.

    Thank you.

  2. This is a GREAT first step towards reconciliation. However, it's only that, a first step. The next step is for Japan AND Korea to look at their education systems and make some changes so that history is accurately portrayed. Japan's way of teaching history is atrocious. World War II was only 3 pages in one history textbook I saw. Korea's sadly isn't much better.

    I'm very pleased with the joint statement though, now if they could also come to a consensus on Dokdo and the comfort women, then there'd be no reason for continued beef between these two countries which actually have a lot to benefit from each other.

    Do I smell JAKOR-FTA?

  3. It's nice to hear that things are progressing even though we all know what the truth is now.

    Sometimes, I hope people can realize that there is a threshold as to when making amends is no longer of any significance. Just hope they resolve their other various issues such as that of the comfort women, visiting the shrine, textbook issues, etc... before that generation actually dies off... having to live in vain and not being properly acknowledged and apologized for everything that's happened in the war...

  4. @Seoul Searcher

    Not likely to happen, heh the whole region seems to like revisionista history. With Japan claiming nowt happened in Manchuria and the PRC changing its attitude on Goreyo as well.

    Japan and Korea relations improving has no benefit to either country, they are direct competitors to each other on cars, bikes, electronics and heavy engineering.

    Hell it all boils down to business anyway, and tbh the Koreans are winning, my travels around China there are Hyundai diggers and machinery as well as Samsung and LG electronics. Japanese electronics and industrial machinery is rare.

  5. Just wanted to say thanks AAK for translating and chiming in on this important piece of news.

  6. I notice that the joint declaration attacked the Annexation on moral grounds, but stopped short of saying it is illegal. This is understandable b/c while there is a strong case on morals, the case for illegality is very weak*.

    So it is a fair statement but that way the next statement, that the Treaty was null and void from the start does not really follow.

    *In fact, I've read an 2002 essay from a Kim K. Young that argued for illegality, and it is a laugh riot b/c in pointing out all the little legal technicalities, it actually supports Japan's apologist argument - that it took over Korea partly because Korea was in sh*tty shape. Korea is smaller, but not small when compared to Japan, and if Japan can basically conquer it w/o even a fight on the way to attacking Russia, something is clearly wrong. And then there's a whole sorry tale about Korea's inability to even properly accredit its own signers, leading to a deathbed recantation... ugh. Say what you want about the Annexation but if that was the caliber of argumentation for illegality, it has no hope.

  7. Does anyone know where did the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty signing in 1910 take place?


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