Japan Needs to Take a Cold Look at Its Empire

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Friday sent a letter to President Lee Myung-bak expressing regret over Lee's recent visit to Dokdo and his call on Japan's Emperor Akihito to apologize for the occupation of Korea if he wishes to visit. Some Japanese media reported that the Japanese military will include Dokdo in discussions with the U.S. to protect Japan's islands.

The Japanese constitution describes the emperor as the "symbol of unity" between the public and government. Japanese media still refer to him as "His Majesty," and government officials call themselves his "subjects." That shows how important he is in Japanese culture and society.

But if Japan was truly a mature society, it should reflect on what its emperors have done to Koreans over the last century. In the days of emperors Meiji, Daisho and Hirohito, Japan turned the Korean Peninsula into a battleground twice, forced Korea at gunpoint to sign a treaty ceding control of the country, and sent millions of Koreans to far-flung battle fields or coal mines and factories to fuel the Japanese war machine during World War II.

The emperor may be a deity to the Japanese, but to Koreans he was nothing more than the chief of the Japanese imperial war machine that enslaved them.

Japan needs to put itself into Korea's shoes for a moment. If the emperor is as godlike as the Japanese people believe he is, how can you justify the butchering and mutilation of the Korean queen by a group of thugs sent by imperial Japan to storm into the royal palace?

Countries need to respect each other's culture. But it is more important that they have the common sense to look back at their past history, recall who was the aggressor and who was the victim, and remember the damage done. It was a grave breach of diplomatic protocol for Japan to send a letter to the Korean Embassy in Tokyo and reveal it to the media before it was delivered to the Korean president. Japan may have felt it was necessary to embarrass the Korean president, but such acts simply push both sides closer to the edge. If it is true that Tokyo is seeking to get Washington on its side over its dubious claim to Dokdo as reported by Japanese media, it would not only be foolish but end up putting an ally in an awkward position.

There are signs that the tit-for-tat between Seoul and Tokyo could escalate into a full-blown crisis if it spreads into the public sphere. Korea, China and Japan are partners in the future of Northeast Asia, which is undergoing a major shift in its security framework due to the rising military might of China. The three countries must cooperate to create lasting peace in the region.

Politicians in both Korea and Japan must learn to control themselves by setting their sights on long-term goals. Japan must realize that its lurch to the right since the inauguration of the Noda administration and aggressive stance on Dokdo and attempts to whitewash its World War II atrocities are constantly souring ties with Korea. But Korean diplomats, too, must take an objective look at whether Seoul has taken the best steps to achieve its foreign-policy goals.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 20, 2012 13:48 KST