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South Korea Rejects Talks With Japan


In a sign of deepening distrust in East Asia, South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, rejected the prospect of a summit with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. There is “no purpose” for a discussion with Tokyo, President Park indicated, unless Abe apologizes for Japan’s historical wrongdoings. In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Ms. Park was blunt:

The fact is there are certain issues that complicate [the relationship with Japan]. One example is the issue of the comfort women. These are women who have spent their blossoming years in hardship and suffering, and spent the rest of their life in ruins.

And none of these cases have been resolved or addressed; the Japanese have not changed any of their positions with regard to this. If Japan continues to stick to the same historical perceptions and repeat its past comments, then what purpose would a summit serve? Perhaps it would be better not to have one.

Despite South Korean citizens polling in favor of a summit and intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, Ms. Park isn’t interested. The Japanese, she says, must take the first step in improving the relationship, which is at its lowest level in many years.

China is a different story. If China’s ultimate strategy is to shift the center of gravity of its Korea policy from the prickly and starving North to the prosperous, anti-japan South, Beijing just might find itself to be pushing on an open door. “China is a very close neighbour” says Ms. Park, “and we are currently carrying out various programmes to give greater substance to that partnership.”

The deterioration of the South Korea-Japan relationship, and the improvement of Seoul’s relations with Beijing, are two of the most interesting developments in East Asian geopolitics in recent years. President Park became the first South Korean leader to visit China before Japan. Eight months into her administration, she and Shinzo Abe remain cold and distant from one another. As Japan grows increasingly assertive in the region, rearming its defense forces and refusing to back down in territorial disagreements with both Seoul and Beijing, President Park is finding a welcome friend in China. And China, irked and annoyed by North Korean outbursts, happily and frequently finds itself on the same page as South Korea on areas of mutual interest.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    President Park is a fool to trust the Communist Party of China over the Democracy in Japan. I bet the South Korean businesses and people are kicking themselves now, for electing this loser.

  • Tim Godfrey

    This and the last post on Korea really illustrates how freedom of the press and free access to the internet is no guarantee that a population will be informed of issues outside their border.

    The Japanese POV on these issues is Japan provided compensation in the 60s to the Korean government with expectation that individuals harmed by the occupation would be compensated. The Korean government at the time decided to keep the money. Today we have Korean governments now manipulating the media in order to extort more money from Japan.

    The periodic nonsensical outbursts from Japanese politicians seem less absurd when one takes into account the belief that Japanese have that they have atoned financially for WW2 and current demands for more money are politically motivated extortion.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The refusal of Japan to fully acknowlege (much less genuinely atone for) their atrocities in WWII lies at the core of this issue. While I have no great love for the Korean government (a nasty bunch, to be sure), the entire Japanese political class wants to pretend that Japan’s only error in WWII was not winning. This attitude is increasingly unacceptable to the populations of the numerous Asian countries that have first had experience with Japan’s barbarism in the past.
      If the Japanese acknowleged and apologized directly for their prior crimes (no weasel words, no pretense that they were victims too), a good deal of this animosity would evaporate. More importantly, much of the political opportunism of those who do NOT want to see a true rapproachment with the Japanese would be exposed for what it is…dishonest political posturing.
      I don’t intend to hold my breath waiting however…

      • Tim Godfrey

        It takes two to tango,

        I used the words “financially atoned” deliberately above.

        If the Korean and Chinese governments would acknowledge the financial contributions that the Japanese have made over the years to these countries you would find the Japanese political class less willing to prevaricate on the non-financial aspects of contrition.

        The biggest problem now is the myth making in Korea and China has made any rational resolution impossible.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Have you ever been to Japan?
          The Japanese resolutely refuse to acknowlege ANY responsibility for WWII, and persist in the crudest form of denialism when it comes to the atrocities of the IJA. The sort of repellent comments regarding the Koreans (in particular) that are common in political discourse in Japan are hardly the sort of thing that would leave any Korean political figure with any illusions about Japanese regret regarding their behavior.
          Yes, the Koreans should acknowlege that the Japanese have made financial reparations, but they (the Japanese) have also been extremely careful to avoid accepting any moral or ethical responsibility for their behavior. That Abe feels he can get away with visiting the shrine of war criminals (mealy-mouthed equivocations afterwards notwithstanding) shows a Japanese political class that is simply unwilling to accept responsibility.
          I have left the Chinese out of this discussion, as they have raised the art of ‘waving the bloody shirt’ to a virtuosity that defies description. There is nothing that the Japanese could do to satisfy them, but to be fair, the Japanese don’t bother trying.

          Anyone who believes that some financial payments (made under immense US pressure, I might point out) absent a sincere apology will convince anyone of anything obviously knows almost nothing about the region, and more specifically about Korea and Japan. Korea suffered almost a half-century of Japanese occupation, and none of it was particularly pleasant for them. They will not accept some sort of non-apology and a bit of blood money…

          • Tim Godfrey

            I lived in Japan for several years and I can say your opinions on what Japanese think has no connection with the reality I experienced.

            The main sticking points for Japanese are:

            1) The lack of acknowledgement of that a great deal of financial compensation has already been paid.

            2) The average Japanese was no more responsible for Tojo than the average German was responsible for the Nazis.

            3) During the occupation the Japanese built up the civil infrastructure in the countries they occupied which helped them when they left.

            If you could get Koreans to concede those 3 points you would find nationalistic Japanese politicians marginalized pretty quickly

            Also, it worth noting that Hashimoto lost badly in elections after his comfort women comments which is evidence that the average Japanese was as disturbed by his comments as outsiders were.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I have spent quite a bit of time in Japan over the last 3 decades…
            Regarding your points…
            1) The financial considerations that have been made (and they have been acknowleged), are always portrayed by the Japanese as a way of ‘resolving’ the matter…that is not going to fly with the Koreans. The Japanese refuse to acknowlege the role of their military (not just a few officers, or a few civilian administrators) in the rape of Korea (or the Phillipines, or elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific) as a matter of Japanese policy. There are no formal apologies, only expressions of regret. Your time in Japan should have taught you that in Asia, the difference between those two things is considerable.
            2) Ah, the wounded cry of the victim…it wasn’t us, we were innocent victims of those bad leaders during the war. Like it or not the Japanese population solidly supported the war effort, and honored those who took part in it. To the average Korean, or Fillipino or…etc., the Japanese nation owes an apology, and blaming one or two (conveniently dead) leaders isn’t going to cut it. That Japanese history textbooks in schools still don’t fully admit Japan’s role in the atrocities (something that is hardly unknown outside of Japan) doesn’t help matters at all.
            3) Given the rather rapacious looting of Korea over the long Japanese occupation (which you will remember predates WWII), and their destructive behavior during the war (Manila in the Phillipines is an excellent example), the modest improvements that the Japanese introduced (largely for their own benefit, after all, they were using these places as military staging points and colonial outposts) is rather disingenuous.
            Look, the Japanese were bad, bad guys before they lost, and have yet to come to terms with what they did. Without accepting a full accounting (and this isn’t about money, it is about admitting guilt), nothing is going to change.

          • Tim Godfrey

            I have tried to sort out the competing historical narratives and I don’t believe your characterization of the Japanese occupation as a “rapacious looting” is a fair representation of what occurred. It was not completely benevolent either.

            Given your extremely biased perspective on the issue it does not surprise me that many Japanese you met rejected your notions and there is really no chance of there being a resolution that aligns with your narrative.

            A more nuanced approach is needed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

  • Corlyss

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but America’s retreat from Asia (as opposed to the mythical “Asia pivot”) is producing the rearmament of Asian nations once covered by the Pax Americana. Rearmament is understandable, but it increases the instability factor.

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