Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan-South Korea Relations: Self-trapped in History and Sentiment
KAWATO Akio / Former Japanese ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Columnist at “Newsweek” Japan.

August 13, 2021
Japan annexed the Joseon dynasty of Korea in 1910, and the Korean Peninsula remained under Japanese rule until 1945. Later in 1965, Japan and Korea settled their past by signing the treaty of basic relations and established diplomatic relations. However, even today, history of the past becomes a political issue between the two countries as seen in the “comfort women” and other issues. Further, South Korean President Moon Jae-in decided to forgo attending the Opening Ceremony of Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Having said that, neither Japan nor Korea is unified as a nation as a whole in the anti-Korean or the anti-Japanese cause. Before the outbreak of Covid-19, over 7 million Korean tourists visited Japan annually. According to a nationwide Japanese cabinet survey conducted in October 2019, 45.7% of Japanese citizens aged 18 to 29 expressed familiarity towards Korea. Further, Japan is the largest global importer of K-Pop.

Let me try to dissect the Japan-South Korea relations.

Dynamics of Torsion

As aforementioned, the legal framework of post war Japan-South Korea relations was set out in the “Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea” of 1965 and Attached Agreements. Although South Korea put forward its maximum compensation claim to Japan, the negotiation was concluded with Japan agreeing to extend a total of US$ 800 million over the following 10 years as official and private economic cooperation, based on the understanding that “problems concerning claims between the High Contracting Parties and their nationals・・・are settled completely and finally” (Article 2 of the "Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation"). Compared to the South Korean government’s annual budget of US$ 350 million at the time, it was a huge amount.

However, those youths who protested against the authoritarian rule of Park Chung-Hee and were jailed (President Moon Jae-in was one of them) formed a pro-democracy party later and have continued to dream of scrapping the Treaty even to this day. There are many who share this desire in the circles close to President Moon, within the government and the court.

Furthermore, from the 1990s and onwards, when democratization showed progress in South Korea, the number of NPOs involved in various issues surged with the support of government subsidies. They include those that work toward eliciting apology and compensation from Japan for the “comfort women” and former “forced laborers (wartime laborers)”. They have come to exercise a strong political power, organizing their activity through embracing the family members of political leaders. While there are many people who join the cause out of a genuine sense of empathy, there are top officials of these NPOs who have been accused of embezzling campaign funds, as seen in news reports in May on the former leader of “The Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance” Yoon Mee-hyang.

For those whose life and livelihood depend on such activities, the actual settlement of the issues is the outcome that they want the least. Therefore, no matter how much the government of Japan and South Korea exercise their wisdom and come up with solutions, the activists will overturn them. As an example, upon establishment of the “Asian Women’s Fund” by the government of Japan in 1995, funded by donations from the private sector, the NPOs of South Korea encouraged the ex-comfort women to reject the money offered. Further, in May 2020 a bill designed to collect donations from South Korean individuals and businesses to be given to the former forced laborers (war-time laborers) was crushed even before deliberation in the South Korean National Assembly.

Drifting between big powers

In the early 20th century, Japan and South Korea maneuvered amidst the power game of Russia, the United States, and Great Britain. As Japan’s power began to grow after its victory in the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War, the Joseon Dynasty of Korea became cautious and started to approach Russia. Japan tried to stop this and there followed a series of violence and tragedy, drenched in blood, finally leading to the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. This annexation had been endorsed in advance by both the United States and the United Kingdom. In the agreement made between United States Secretary of War William Howard Taft and Japanese Prime Minister Count Katsura Taro on July 1905, the United States recognized the legitimacy of dominant rule by Japan over the Korean peninsula. In return, the United States made Japan recognize their rule over the Philippines which they had colonized after Spain ceded its claim in 1902. Great Britain too had recognized Japan’s sphere of influence in the Korean peninsula, revising the Anglo-Japanese Alliance during the Russo-Japanese War.

Japan values “law”, South Korea values “sentiment”

People of Korea insist that Japan has neither apologized nor compensated enough for its past actions and that Japan should learn from advanced countries such as Germany. However, the prime ministers of Japan have reiterated Japan’s statement of remorse and apology time and again, and it has become almost a habit to express Japan’s remorse for its past history whenever meeting the President of South Korea.

It may be the wish of the South Korean activists to put Japan in the world’s most lowly class forever as “the culpable Japan family” based on the old Eastern tradition. However, the issue of Japan’s past has been settled in accordance with international law under the terms of the aforementioned basic treaty. Moreover, Japan left its asset estimated to be worth US $ 5 billion at the time in the Korean peninsula and renounced the claim for it in the basic treaty.

Having said that, it would be insensitive of Japan to keep cursing at Korea. Japan must feel the emotional pain for leaving the people of Korea traumatized, and must also have the firm resolve never to repeat that history. For that, we need to have history education in place as well.

Although both Japan and South Korea share a democratic system, we have different position in international politics such as regarding the relationship towards China. No full-fledged partnership appears to be possible between the two countries for years to come. However, it is absolutely essential that the bilateral relationship is managed properly so that the relationship of torsion will not develop into a rupture of economic relations or, worse still, an armed conflict. Today, both Japan and South Korea are on their way to attaining missiles that would reach each other. Hence, the escalation of emotional conflict would be fraught with danger.

“Generations obsessed by the past” will go away. People of both countries have become well-off. It is my hope that we aim for a situation in which the leaders of our two countries will meet now and then and move our relationship positively forward.

Akio Kawato is former Japanese ambassador to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and Columnist at “Newsweek” Japan.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

河東 哲夫 / 元在ウズベキスタン・タジキスタン大使、日本版Newsweek コラムニスト

2021年 8月 13日
 しかし日本も韓国も、国全体がまるで一人の人間であるかのように、反日とか嫌韓でまとまって考え、動いているわけではない。コロナ禍の前は、年間700万人超もの韓国人が日本を訪れていた。2019年10月内閣府の調査では、日本の方でも韓国に親しみを感じる人は18~29歳の層で45.7%に達していた 。そして日本は、K-Popの世界一の輸入国である。




20世紀初には、日韓両国は露・米・英などが織りなすパワー・ゲームの中で立ち回るようになる。日清・日ロ戦争での勝利で日本が強大化すると、警戒した韓国の李王朝はロシアに接近する。日本はこれを止めようとして、血で血を洗う抗争と数々の悲劇のあと、1910年には日韓併合を実現してしまう。そしてこのことは、英米両国にあらかじめ是認されていた。アメリカは1905年7月桂首相とタフト大統領特使の間の合意で、朝鮮半島での日本の支配的地位を認める。アメリカは引き換えに、1902年スペインから奪って植民地化したフィリピンへの権利を日本に認めさせている。英国も、まだ日ロ戦争が続く中、日英同盟を改定して、朝鮮半島への日本の支配権を認めている 。


韓国人はまた、日本は過去に対して十分謝罪していない、補償もしていない、ドイツなど先進諸国を見倣え、と言う。しかし、日本の総理は折にふれて、反省・謝罪の声明を出しているし、韓国大統領と会う際のスピーチでは過去の歴史に対して反省の念を表明するのがほぼ慣例になっている 。
韓国の運動家は、東洋の古い習わしに従って、「罪を犯した日本一家」を未来永劫、世界の賎民扱いにしたいのだろうが、日本の過去は、現代の国際法に則って、前記の基本条約で清算してある。それに、日本は当時の金で50億ドル以上と推計される 資産を朝鮮半島に残し、基本条約でそれへの請求権を放棄してもいるのだ。


一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan-South Korea Relations: Self-trapped in History and Sentiment