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“Seiron” column: Do China and the ROK really want to resolve the history issues?

  • 2015-11-06 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: November 6, 2015 – p. 7)


 By Kunihiko Miyake, research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies


 I was at an international conference of American and European experts on “The Asian Situation and U.S.-Europe Relations” in London when the Japan-China-ROK summit and the bilateral summits were taking place in Seoul. Yet, there was no discussion on this at the conference. This made me realize, once again, the perception gap between the Western countries and Northeast Asia.


 I pay my respect to the Japanese and ROK officials who worked very hard for the realization of the summits. As usual, the opinions of major Japanese national newspapers on the outcome of these meetings were divided.


 Many editorials glossed over the issues, uttering such platitudes as: “It is necessary to work for compromises in order to reach a final solution that is acceptable to all parties from the humanitarian standpoint, while also standing firm on one’s position” or “Prime Minister Abe should take one decisive step forward.”


 One newspaper even said: “This should not be a clash of national pride. The top priority should be thinking of ways to heal the emotional wounds of the victims.” This is mixing up a sovereign state and an NGO.


 On the other hand, Sankei Shimbun asserted that, “Rash measures should be avoided at all costs” and “There is no need for ambiguous solutions that will leave sources of trouble for the future.” Yomiuri Shimbun also argued that, “The ROK needs to guarantee that whatever step is taken, this will be the final settlement.” It should be crystal clear which is right and which is wrong.


 Here are my thoughts as I was attending the conference in London:


· To be fair, the ROK is the main cause of the stagnation of Japan-ROK relations. The U.S. also thinks so. This is probably the reason why the ROK has finally decided to do something to resolve the situation.


· President Park Geun-hye is in a very difficult position. She was under so much pressure that she thought she could not justify a Japan-ROK summit without holding a trilateral summit in Seoul.


· If so, it is understandable that she did not host a lunch [for Abe] and no joint news conference was held. This was the result of her fear of damaging her own image rather than resentment of Japan.


· Japan was probably as solicitous to the ROK as possible because it was aware of this situation. However, this is premised on the basic principle that [claims for compensation] have been settled legally.


· The two leaders agreed to accelerate negotiations to reach a conclusion on the comfort women issue “as soon as possible.” Needless to say, priority should be given to a “settlement” and not “as soon as possible.”


 Taking issue with nationalism off the mark


 Something bothered me at the London conference. European experts on Asia were talking about “we need to watch the nationalistic disputes in Northeast Asia (i.e. among Japan, China, and the ROK).” This line of reasoning has something in common with the absurd proposition of a liberal Japanese newspaper that “inward-looking face saving and narrow-minded nationalism on both sides is unfortunate.” I refuted my European friends with the following arguments:


· Nationalism is not the cause but the effect of the feud among Japan, China, and the ROK over history issues.


· The true reason for this conflict is that both China and the ROK are using the history issues politically and strategically.


· “Victory in the anti-Japan resistance war” is the source of the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China’s rule. A “solution” to the history issues is rather to its disadvantage.


· “Compromising with Japan” is an act of political suicide for a South Korean president. The history issues are indispensable for sustaining the administration.


· It makes no sense that the highest political leaders are unable to resolve their own domestic political issues and are relying on foreign countries for a solution.


 Perception gap between Europe, East Asia


 It seems that Europeans have difficulty understanding the situation in Northeast Asia. They typically say that “Germany and France reconciled after World War II, so why can’t Japan, China, and the ROK do the same?” or “Japan should learn from Germany’s experience.” What they fail to understand is that China is not to Japan what Germany is to France. The truth is China is to Japan what the Soviet Union was to Europe.


 Germany and France decided to “reconcile” for their common interest of surviving between the U.S. and the USSR. France accepted Germany’s apology and forgave Germany. On the other hand, China and the ROK never accepted Japan’s apology in the past 20 years. They still refuse to forgive Japan for domestic political and other reasons. Both “apology” and “forgiveness” is necessary for true “reconciliation.”


 In my parting words to the conference, I stated:


 “Europeans do not understand the true character of present day China. What sort of threat would the UK feel if there were 1.3 billion Europeans on the European continent who spoke French under Napoleon, or German under Hitler, or Russian under Stalin? China is to Japan what the European continent is to Britain.” Mutual understanding between Japan and Europe will indeed be an issue from now on. (Slightly abridged)

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