Gov't Must Focus on National Interest in Dealing with Japan

      March 29, 2023 12:56

      Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has approved the latest school textbook revisions requiring Japanese elementary schoolchildren to learn that Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo are "Japan's original territory," which some will claim is "illegally occupied" by Korea. Based on a cabinet decree from 2021, the word "forced" has been deleted from any reference to the mobilization of Korean laborers in colonial times, and the massacre of Koreans following rumors that they poisoned wells after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 no longer gets any mention. 
      The revisions had been ongoing, but they were completed just after President Yoon Suk-yeol traveled to Tokyo for a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeking to patch up frayed relations at the risk of a political backlash at home. Kishida did not apologize for Japanese atrocities during their meeting.
      Japan is set to release its latest diplomatic blue book next month and defense white paper in July, and they too will contain the usual historical distortions, lies and whitewashes when they lay out the principles of Korea policy. Already the media here are accusing Japan of backstabbing because these developments come hard on the heels of the summit and there seems to have been little follow-up from the Korean government.
      Yoon is dreaming if he thinks that Japan is so overcome by his major concession on the issue of compensating victims of forced labor that it will now repent its colonial atrocities and change its ways. No government in the world works like that. They move in incremental steps, perpetually weighing their political interests. According to one survey by a Japanese daily on Monday, 63 percent of Japanese people said the summit was a success, but only 35 percent thought bilateral relations will actually improve, while 56 percent felt there will be no change in relations.
      Korea needs to cooperate with the U.S. and Japan in order to deal with regional threats. But it is unwise to expect any goodwill gestures from Japan. Tokyo has grown less and less tolerant of Korean demands as Korea's global clout has increased. The rightwing Japanese government will continue to whitewash past atrocities in school textbooks and try to push its bogus claim to Dokdo because that is what wins it votes. Seoul must always keep these factors in mind and consider its own national interest when dealing with Tokyo.

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