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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 20)

National 07:20 March 20, 2023

A defeat of the mind
: Koreans require vigilance to stop history from repeating

Japan has overpowered Korea on two accounts in recent weeks.

Just over a week ago in Tokyo, March 10, Japan defeated Korea 13-4 in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Korea barely escaped a called game.

A week later, in the same city, Korean diplomats suffered an even more humiliating defeat. It came at a critical summit to resolve the issue of compensating South Korean victims of wartime forced labor during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation.

In baseball, Korean teams have long played against their Japanese rivals, who are a few steps ahead in the sport's history and overall ability. What motivated the Korean baseballers was the determination not to lose to their former occupiers. Fans could not see that this time around.

The same thing happened in the diplomatic field. In a speech celebrating Koreans' independence movement 104 years ago, President Yoon Suk Yeol attributed Korea's loss of sovereignty to its ancestors' inability rather than Japan's aggression. This is precisely what Japanese right-wingers have been saying for more than a century.

As expected, Korea gave all and got almost nothing at the summit.

Yoon agreed to have Korean companies compensate the victims. The two wartime employers of forced Korean laborers will not participate even in that indirect compensation. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida made no expression of regrets about the unhappy past. He merely said he would inherit previous governments' perceptions of history. What's left unsaid was it included those of the ultra-right, unrepentant governments.

Tokyo went even further. According to the Japanese media, Kishida told Yoon to follow up with the now aborted 2015 agreement on wartime sex slavery and raised the issue of sovereignty over Dokdo. The Japanese side added insult to injury. Still, Korean officials are busy hiding such facts. Foreign Minister Park Jin said the two issues were "not handled as agenda items," acknowledging such discussions indirectly.

Yoon's aides cite Japan's lifting of the export ban on three semiconductor materials as a significant result.

From Tokyo's viewpoint, however, the concession is more symbolic than substantive. The Japanese exporters of these items have also suffered due to such restrictions. Korean companies have almost completed the import substitution process. Similar things can be said about the resumption of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Given its relationship with North Korean missile threats, Tokyo needed it more badly than Seoul.

Foreign Minister Park, saying the cup has been half filled by Korea, expressed hope that "Japan will fill the other half."

By most appearances, however, Tokyo is telling Seoul to "fill the entire cup." In exchange for inviting Yoon to the G7 Summit in May, Japan will force Seoul to agree to the release of radioactive water from Fukushima into the sea. Japan will also try to silence Seoul over its bid to register a former gold mine linked to wartime forced labor as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It's time for Koreans to stop and take stock. All this should not go on as internal strife between pro-Japanese and anti-Japanese groups or between liberals and progressives. When it comes to matters regarding Japan, Koreans have been united regardless of their ideological and political differences. Now, a crack is seen due to external and internal pressure. Yoon's supporters say it reflects the changing times and the future is more important than the past. They also often cite the "forgive but don't forget" phrase.

However, we Koreans are one of the most forgetful people worldwide. The Supreme Court's landmark ruling in 2012 was not about money but about pointing to the "unlawfulness" of Japan's annexation of Korea itself. Otherwise, Korean independence fighters become insurgents, and Ahn Jung-geun becomes a terrorist.

In the same situation, China earned what it sought ― a proper apology and compensation. The difference lies in their governments ― and the people.

Soon, Japan will demand more, and Korea will concede more. Then, Koreans will call for replacing not only their manager but what they consider a biased umpire ― the U.S.

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