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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #299: June 21, 2005

Only Time Will Heal Korea-Japan Rift

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Only Time Will Heal Korea-Japan Rift
Chosun Ilbo


The meeting between Japan's Prime Minister Koizumi and the South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun Monday in Seoul seemed to achieve generally disappointing results. Most of the reports, both Korean - one introduced here - and Japanese described the meeting as heated and tense, each stressing his own view, taking up almost all the time allocated to confirm neither would give in to historical issues.

In fact, one critical issue was not even on the agenda. The article introduced explains this as "[the territorial] dispute was kept off the agenda from the start as Seoul believes it cannot raise unnecessary debate over its own territory." Obviously, Japanese commentaries differ in nuances, a moderate comment would say that the theme was avoided, as the parties knew it would produce no meaningful results, while hard-liners remarked that Koreans are afraid of their assertion of territorial ownership scrutinized as it could reveal inconsistencies in their logic.

The historical "issue" is symbolized by two aspects. Mr Koizumi's regular visit to Yasukuni Shrine, and one of Japanese textbooks recently approved to be "distorting history" as accused by Koreans. On the first aspect Mr Koizumi reiterated his view, perhaps a thousandth time that the visits "represent the pledge of the defeated to never again engage in war," but Mr Roh reportedly responded "No matter what the prime minister may say, I and the citizens of our nation understand them as nothing other than the justification of the past." Apparently, the textbooks were not discussed between the two leaders, but it might worth noting an informal comment by a Japanese minister when he said, "It is interesting to know, of the people who condemn the textbook, how many have even taken glimpse of what is really written there."

Some people in Japan have expressed it to be puzzling, if not annoying that Mr Roh at this meeting was so persistent in stressing the differences of views of the two governments as if to impress the world of the failure of the meeting and the hostile bilateral relationship - and what good it would do. It was even more baffling when considering the two leaders' meeting last July in Cheju, South Korea, had ended in a so friendly atmosphere, that it gave the impression of a start of new friendly relationship despite difference of opinions on some specific issues, as can be seen in any bilateral relationship.

The article above was chosen to be introduced here, as it was one of more moderate ones among reports coming out of South Korea. Needless to note that even still there are expressions that are perplexing to Japanese, as it might be a similar situation of a moderate Japanese article for Korean people.

That said, perhaps a more objective view - or a sigh - expressed in the last paragraph of the article might be in sync with many Japanese. "Working level officials in both countries say private exchanges and mutual understanding are the only way forward. That solution takes time. Perhaps, then, an agreement reached during this summit for more exchanges of young leaders and academic exchanges is the most constructive result."

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