Friday, March 25, 2005

President Roh Moo-hyun's Letter to the Korean People

As everyone here in Korea must know by now, President Roh Moo-hyun has personally written and officially released a letter (original Korean) on the Cheong Wa Dae Website that criticizes Japan in extraordinarily blunt language. The letter is titled "A Letter to the People in Relation to the Recent Relationship Between Korea and Japan." I have not yet seen a full English translation, so I cannot analyze it in detail.

For readers unfamiliar with the Korean situation, you need to know that Japan colonized Korea from 1910 to 1945 and that Japan still claims a small, rocky island that it calls Takeshima in the body of water separating Korea from Japan. Korea currently possesses the island, which it calls Dokdo (or Tokto), maintains a presence there, and seems to have the prior legitimate claim (based on old maps).

Recently, a provincial government in Japan (Shimane Prefecture) declared Takeshima Day to celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the island's incorporation into Japanese territory. Many Koreans have protested and pressed for the Korean government to take a harder official line on this issue.

President Roh has now met those demands.

Here are some excerpts of Roh's letter, culled from various news sources, so I cannot be sure of the sequence (and excuse the repetition):


"Japan seized Dokdo with armed forces during the Russo-Japanese War in which Japan invaded Korea." (Dong-A Ilbo: DAI)

"Shimane Prefecture in Japan publicized February 22 as the day of Takeshima (Dokdo's Japanese name) to celebrate the inclusion of Dokdo into Japanese territory 100 years ago. This could mean that Japan is trying to justify the war in its past and deny the independence of Korea." (DAI)

"Japan also justified its attack on Korea and denied Korea's liberation by declaring Takeshima Day on the day when Japan forcibly included Tokto to its territory 100 years ago." (Korea Times: KT)

These are "acts designed to justify Japan’s past invasions and deny the liberation of Korea." (Chosun Ilbo: CI)

"Takeshima Day" is being used "to justify Japan's past invasion and to deny the liberation of Korea." (Joong Ang Daily: JAD)

"Now the government cannot but squarely address the matter. We can no longer sit idle as Japan's imperial move will (adversely) determine the future of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia." (KT)

"We can no longer sit and watch Japan's intention to carry on with its domination by rationalizing its history of invasion and colonization." (Korea Herald: KH)

"We can no longer overlook Japan’s intention to justify the history of colonial rule and to enhance hegemony again." (DAI)

Japan is trying to "justify its history of invasion. . . . Japan's ruling forces and central government help from behind the scenes." (JAD)

"The core of our diplomatic countermeasure is to flatly demand the Japanese government fix (the problem)." (KH)

We "will be urging the Japanese government to backtrack." (KT)

"I have doubts whether the Japanese government would give a sincere response, but we must do what must be done with persistence." (KH)

"Although there is concern that the Japanese government will fail to come up with a sincere response to our request, we will persistently call for it." (KT)

"Whatever difficulties may arise, we shall neither retreat nor fudge." (Hankyoreh: HKR)

"We cannot help regarding these actions as Japanese because all these things are occurring with the support of the Japanese government, which has closed its eyes on this issue. They are not isolated incidents by mere local governments or irrational nationalists. Such attitudes are nothing but the nullification of apologies and self-examinations done by Japan in the past." (DAI)

"Such behaviors nullify all the remorse and apologies of the past. We cannot but judge that such acts were committed with the consent of the Japanese central government. They were not done by only a certain prefecture and some chauvinists." (KT)

"The visits to the Yasukuni shrine of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi are almost the same as hindering the honesty of introspections and apologies of Japanese leaders in the past, since an apology exists on the premise of self-examination. And then, necessary actions should be followed up, accordingly." (DAI)

"I can't tolerate him (Koizumi) any more." (JAD)

"There will be many situations I will confront without hiding my anger." (JAD)

"We will root out (such misbehaviors) this time so that the people can see a more tangible outcome." (KT)

"I have doubts whether the Japanese government would give a sincere response, but we must do what must be done with persistence."(KH)

"Although there is concern that the Japanese government will fail to come up with a sincere response to our request, we will persistently call for it." (KT)

"We have to make decisions with discretion, and speak and act as slowly as necessary." (JAD)

"But I believe the people don't have to worry about it too much as we have already been equipped with enough capability to cope with the matter." (KT)

A “merciless diplomatic war with Japan” could break out. (CI)

"[S]uch war will not end in a day." (KT)

"Whatever difficulties may arise, we shall neither retreat nor fudge." (HKR)

"Korea will triumph in the end." (CI)

"I will not leave the problem in a question and eradicate it this time, no matter how difficult." (DAI)

"The government will do its utmost until acceptable results to the public come out." (DAI)


President Roh looks at Japan and thinks that he perceives a concerted pattern. Japan continues to claim Dokdo as Japanese territory. Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi keeps on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Japan's war dead. Japanese nationalists repeatedly attempt to rewrite Japan's history texts to glorify their nation, including its annexation of Korea. And now, the Shimane Prefecture in Japan declares Takeshima Day and claims that Dokdo is part of its jurisdiction.

Roh therefore concludes that all of this was done "with the consent of the Japanese central government."

Whether Roh's opinion is correct or not, that a head of state would personally write such a blunt, accusatory letter is astonishing. I understand the anger at Japan, based on its colonial past here in Korea, but this hot-headed letter will prove counterproductive.

If Roh felt that an official letter needed to be released, there are diplomatic expressions and diplomatic channels proper for that.

Roh has shown lack of tact and tactics. The letter has accomplished nothing positive and can only anger the Japanese.

Roh also fails to have a strategic vision for handling the delicate, changing circumstances in Northeast Asia. China is growing in power and attempting to reassert its traditional hegemony in this region. It has declared the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo to have been Chinese territory, which could be interpreted as a claim on the northern portion of the Korean peninsula. Korea therefore needs to focus more on China's intentions than Japan's.

Concern over China's role in Northeast Asia has already brought closer relations between Japan and Russia. Korea should be pursuing closer long-term relations with both of these countries. A continued, long-term alliance with the United States would also be in Korea's interests, but Roh (and many Koreans) seem to think otherwise.

Northeast Asia is not an inherently stable place. Any stability here is an achievement, not a given. If Korea fails to nurture good relations with Japan, Russia, and the United States, to whom can it turn in its future hour of need?


Post a Comment

<< Home