Building a trust-based relationship is key

2023. 10. 2. 19:59
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The only thing that can create equal bilateral relations is an accurate understanding of the issues and ceaseless dialogue.

Park Yu-haThe author is a professor emeritus at Sejong University. I recently attended a memorial ceremony for Kenzaburo Oe held in Tokyo, Japan. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature and died on March 3 at age 88. From the mid-1990s to this year, I have translated and introduced five of Oe’s works to Korea.

More than 300 people in the media, culture and publishing industry turned up at the farewell ceremony held at the Imperial Hotel, where a green tree representing Oe’s message of human salvation stood. Author Masahiko Shimada, the head of the memorial event, vowed to inherit “Oe’s resistance spirit and unorthodox ideas.” As Shimada said, such a spirit certainly existed in Japan and will continue.

However, just as Oe symbolized the “post-war Japan,” which started with a reflection on imperial and pre-imperial Japan, his passing seemed to suggest some inflection point in Japan to me. Oe was a writer who had criticized imperialism and nuclear issues throughout his life since he started writing in his 20s.

In 2013, two years after the Tohoku earthquake, the old author spoke in front of a crowd of 60,000, leading protests against nuclear power plants. The movement seemed to be the last campaign by a large number of the Zenkyoto generation led by the All-Campus Joint Struggle Committees in the 1960s. The generation has since championed a repenting “post-war Japan.” As members of the generation age, they are not as active as before.

The generation — which has sided with the victims of colonization since colonial issues surfaced and urged the Japanese government to apologize — is no longer young. Apart from those who do not acknowledge their own faults, what lies ahead of us is a Japan without Oe and the Zenkyoto generation.

The so-called “conscientious” intellectuals and citizens in Japan have repented their history and almost unconditionally supported the Korean argument. The problem was that it came from a paternalistic sentiment toward Japan’s former colonies.

Such a subtle unequal relationship between Korea and Japan has been maintained over the past 30 years. The conscientious Japanese were obviously different from former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was notorious in Korea. But in recent years, they are divided, with some of them starting to have different voices over past issues.

In that sense, we need to consider establishing a new relationship with Japan. While clearly stating the damages inflicted on Korea by imperial Japan, Korea needs to be free from the victimhood that sometimes turns a blind eye to irrational attitudes. In other words, we need to have the time to examine the roots of some of the dubious emotions of the perpetrators.

Since the inauguration last year, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration has dealt with both past history issues and current political and economic issues on an equal footing with Japan. President Yoon’s dramatic restoration of the Korea-Japan relations owed much to the new perspective.

Some of the plaintiffs in the wartime forced labor lawsuits still refuse to accept third-party compensation, claiming that “the Korean government has no stake in the forced labor issue.” However, even if the victims were to receive compensation from companies in their lawsuit, Tokyo’s apology will most likely not follow. On the other hand, the option of third-party compensation has the possibility of drawing an apology from the Japanese government. The option also can help draw attention and forward-looking attitudes from Tokyo and Japanese people — who closed their minds due to the persistent discord over the military sex slavery issue — to resolve issues related to the wartime forced labor and the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake.

If Korea can consider the Fukushima nuclear accident as a disaster for all humanity beyond neighboring Japan, Korea can jointly seek ways to overcome the problem arising from the release of the treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plants as Japan’s closest neighbor. If we can demonstrate such an amicable attitude, our future generations as well as the world can follow.

A trust-based relationship between Seoul and Tokyo must continue to urge the Japanese government to pay heed to the victims of the Kanto Great earthquake and give suffrage to ethnic Koreans living in Japan. The only thing that can create equal bilateral relations is an accurate understanding of the issues and ceaseless dialogue. The comment Shimada made at the memorial ceremony that he watched most Korean television shows in Japan also points in that direction.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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