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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 15)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:03 September 15, 2023

Excessive concessions
Gov't should continue to raise issue of past with Japan

"The Japanese government has formally apologized to 'comfort women' and 'forced labor' victims and acknowledged the facts of wrongdoing."

That is part of the controversial opinion paper submitted to the ongoing 54th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

Its author is not the Japanese but the Korean government.

The paper also said the Korean government has resolved or is resolving most past issues. But that raises some serious questions. Will former sex slaves mobilized by the Japanese Imperial Army and forced laborers agree? Why must the Korean government take the place of its Japanese counterpart to resolve historical issues? Should the former victims of colonization settle the past instead of the colonialists?

It was only natural that Korean NGOs stepped up to disclose and refute Seoul's opinion paper. "Not only has the Japanese government not offered a formal apology to the victims, but it denies committing crimes against humanity while not recognizing the victims' right to compensation," they said.

Most Koreans know which is closer to the facts. But President Yoon Suk Yeol and a handful of his "New Right" supporters think differently. Yoon says only the followers of "communist totalitarianism" criticize his pro-Japan policy. However, surveys show more than 70 percent of Koreans do not understand why Seoul must spend taxpayer money to make PR material endorsing Tokyo's release of treated radioactive water.

In an April interview with the Washington Post, Yoon said, "I cannot accept that (Japan) should be 'on its knees' over something that happened 100 years ago." Still, his administration goes all out to remove the bust of Hong Beom-do, a famous Liberation Army general who fought against Japanese occupiers, from the Korean Military Academy (KMA) grounds, saying he joined the Soviet communist party 100 years ago. It is one example showing how convenient this government's historical memory works.

Instead, the KMA has revived the webtoon of Paik Sun-yeop, who served in the Japanese army in Manchuria that suppressed independence fighters. General Paik's valor during the Korean War should be recognized. However, prioritizing anti-communists over anti-colonialists shows the incumbent government's historical and ideological identity. Yoon and his aides must realize theirs is the only government today that puts outdated ideology ahead of national interests. Winston Churchill joined hands with Josef Stalin to fight Adolf Hitler during WWII.

Some Koreans might think Japan could seldom ask for more. They are dead wrong. Tokyo has reportedly allocated about 300 million yen (2.7 billion won) in next year's budget on PR expenses for sovereignty-related issues, including the Dokdo Islets. The Yoon administration slashed outlays for Dokdo-related research by 25 percent to 380 million won.

Despite thawing bilateral relations, Tokyo has intensified its historical and legal claims over Dokdo in the East Sea (Takeshima in the Sea of Japan in its version). Every year, Tokyo repeats such claims in diplomatic and defense papers. Seoul protests, but it does little more.

Previous governments did so strategically to avoid falling for Japan's ploy to turn Dokdo into an international dispute. However, our incumbent leader does not seem to care at all. Since he took office 16 months ago, Yoon has never mentioned the islets. Even former President Lee Myung-bak, whom many believe is Yoon's role model, infuriated Tokyo by visiting Dokdo and demanding an apology from the Japanese emperor. It was due mainly to political calculations, freezing bilateral ties for a decade, and inviting criticism from liberals and conservatives.

Most Koreans do not want their leaders to go that far. Of course, they do not have to worry about such possibilities under this government, for good or worse.

Cooperation between Korea and Japan is essential when this divided peninsula's security environment changes rapidly. However, few, if any, Koreans will think Seoul must improve ties with Tokyo by remaining indifferent to the past.

There will come a time, sooner or later, when Koreans can no longer endure what they view as Yoon's gutless and spineless diplomacy toward Japan.

It is not certain whether Yoon will stick to his present policy or abruptly turn things around, as his mentor, Lee, did. Either way, it will be disastrous for Seoul, Tokyo ― and Washington.

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