NOTABLE JAPANESE INFLUENCE BEHIND WAR CONTROVERSIES WITH SOUTH KOREA
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has taken a bold step towards shifting from a position long held by past administrations regarding compensation for conscripted Korean laborers in Japan during World War II.
During the National Liberation Day ceremony in Seoul on August 15, Moon declared that Japan has failed to “clarify the full scope of damage” suffered by Koreans, including so-called conscripted workers, and noted that all-out efforts are mandatory to redeem their lost honor, compensate them for their sufferings, explore the historical truth, and work out countermeasures for the future. For that purpose, Moon called for “a courageous stance on the part of Japanese leaders.”
Moon is set to have Japan compensate former laborers conscripted to work for Japanese corporations. Moon’s former boss, the left-leaning late President Noh Moo-hyun, initially claimed that South Korea had the right to demand that Japan atone individual Koreans for inhumanely treating them during its colonial rule of Korea 1910-1945. After scrutinizing the results of the diplomatic negotiations between the two nations culminating in a diplomatic normalization accord in 1965, however, Noh concluded on August 26, 2005 that compensation for conscripted laborers had been implemented by the Korean government out of reparations from Japan. Noh declared that Korea had relinquished its claim for compensation for former conscripted laborers.
As a former chief secretary to President Noh, Moon ought to be familiar with the process through which his boss drew that conclusion. But what made Moon bring up the matter of the conscripted laborers at this time? The backdrop is a peculiar ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in May 2012: the 1965 agreement did not invalidate the right of former conscripted laborers—and their families—to seek compensation from Japan. The top court viewed the Japanese annexation of Korea, as well as the wartime conscription of Koreans under Japanese rule, as illegal under international law, and ruled that Japan therefore has the responsibility to pay compensation.
How can such a ruling, which absolutely defies logic, prevail? Appearing on my weekly internet-distributed “Genron TV” news show on August 11, Professor Tsutomu Nishioka, an expert on Korean affairs, explained that a host of liberal Japanese scholars and journalists are behind the ruling. Nishioka serves as a member of the planning committee of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately financed conservative think tank that I head. He explained:
“As a matter of fact, leading left-wing Japanese scholars developed a theory after the war they were keen on having the Japanese government recognize—that the unification of Korea (with Japan in 1910) was invalid. Since the 1980s, these scholars—including Haruki Wada, emeritus professor at Tokyo University and Soji Takasaki, emeritus professor at Tsuda Women’s College—initiated a campaign steadfastly maintaining that Japan’s 35-year rule over Korea was null and void under international law.”
In 1982, the first controversy over Japanese school textbooks erupted when the Japanese media erroneously reported en masse that some government-screened school textbooks had been ordered to change “invasion” to “advance” in describing Japan’s military action in the early stages of the war. When the Chinese and South Korean governments protested against these alleged changes, the Japanese government chose to immediately apologize—despite the fact that the textbooks had not been rewritten. On the one side was a weak-kneed, apologist government, and on the other Wada and the reckless actions of him and his colleagues. It was a dangerous combination.
On May 10, 2010, after years of campaigning, Wada’s group published a communique in Tokyo and Seoul entitled: “Joint Communique by 100 Japanese and Korean Scholars on the 100th Anniversary of the Japanese Unification with Korea.” Wada was the chief spokesman for the Japanese side, which attracted more than 1,000 signatories from both nations.
Korean Unification: Legitimate Under International Law
Below are some of the names from a rich assortment of Tokyo University professors on the list of Japanese signatories, including some who have already passed away, with their academic position shown alongside their names:
Sasagu Ara (emeritus professor; biblical scholar); Takeshi Ishida (emeritus professor; political science); Yuzo Itagaki (emeritus professor; Islamic studies); Kang Sang-ju (professor, political science); Yoichi Komori (emeritus professor, Japanese literature); Yoshikazu Sakamoto (emeritus professor, international politics); Masaru Tonomura (associate professor, Korean history); and Masato Miyachi (emeritus professor, Japanese history).
Among the other signatories, including journalists, is an intriguing galaxy of notables:
Hiroshi Imatsu (former Asahi Shimbun deputy chief editor); Kenzaburo Oe (novelist); Ko Odagawa (former member of the editorial board, the Asahi Shimbun); Makoto Sataka (publisher, “Weekly Friday” magazine); Hisae Sawachi (non-fiction writer); Kenichi Takagi (laywer); Soji Takasaki (emeritus professor of Tsuda University; Japanese history); Hiroshi Tanaka (emeritus professor of Hitotsubashi University; postwar reparation matters); Shunsuke Tsurumi (philosopher); Yuichi Hida (Director, Kobe Student/Youth Center); Isamu Miyazaki (economist and former Director of the Economic Planning Agency); Tomoko Yamazaki (women’s history specialist); Hideo Yamamuro (Chief Commentator, NHK); Tatsuya Yoshioka (Co-Representative, Peace Boat); and Yoshiaki Yoshimi (Chuo University professor; Japanese history).
The Japanese government, however, has steadfastly held to the position that Japan’s unification with Korea was fully legal under international law at the time. Stressed Nishioka:
“Then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama was a die-hard Socialist, but is on the record in declaring at the Diet that the agreement on Japanese unification with Korea was legally carried out amid the peculiar international circumstances of that era. Different nations naturally have different historical perspectives. Wada and his colleagues have tried desperately to exercise their influence to fit the Japanese historic perception to the Korean way of thinking and interpretation.”
Due at least partly to the lobbying of these prominent Japanese, the Supreme Court of South Korea handed down the highly disputable 2012 decision—that Japan’s unification with Korea was illegal under international law.
Then came a report detailing the results of activities pushed by a government body named “Commission on Verification and Support for the Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism in Korea” (hereafter, “the Commission”).
The Commission was set up in 2004 under the Noh administration, with the report published in June 2016. With horrendous vindictiveness, the South Korean government invested much time and energy in compiling this voluminous document. Since the report’s preface refers to postwar Germany’s self-examination and atonement for “the abuse of Jews by the Nazis, such as the concentration camps, forced labor, and confiscation of property,” one cannot but surmise that Commission members drew inspiration from the Holocaust in portraying what they see as wartime Japanese atrocities committed against Koreans.
“Park Chung-hee Was A Worthy Leader”
Even a condensed version of the report runs 151 pages. It was both disturbing and stunning to find in it the names of more than 2,400 Japanese corporations that were “confirmed to have employed conscripted Korean laborers during the last war.”
Some Japanese were involved in the making of the report as members of an overseas advisory committee, including those whose names frequently appear in documents dealing with historical issues, such as: Yoshihiko Tonohira (Hokkaido Forum for the Victims of Coercive Recruitment and Forced Labor); Satoshi Uesugi (Network Investigating the Truth about Coercive Conscription); Yasunori Takazane (Oka Masaharu Memorial Nagasaki Peace Museum); Aiko Utsumi (Commission member entrusted with Japanese translation of the Report); Yasuhito Takeuchi (private researcher); and Yuichi Higuchi (private researcher). Nishioka observed:
“While all of these people were working closely with the Koreans on the report, the Japanese government failed to address either the conscripted laborer or ‘comfort women’ issues. Whenever Korean claims or documents are found to be biased or ungrounded, we must counter with well-substantiated materials and arguments. Unfortunately, it seems we are always ‘at least a lap behind.’”
“Comfort women” were not coercively recruited or forced to work as “sex slaves,” just as Korean laborers were not coercively conscripted or put to slave labor. In point of fact, the matter of conscripted laborers was settled between Tokyo and Seoul in 1965 once and for all. Urging the Korean side to reflect on specific issues that have already been resolved diplomatically between Japan and South Korea, Nishioka emphasized:
“President Park Chung-hee was a worthy leader, as he made the difficult decision to not have the Japanese government compensate former conscripted laborers individually but instead request significant grants and loans to be taken in a lump sum and used for his nation’s economic future. If Japan had paid direct individual compensation, South Korea would have had that much less for its economic development. Japan ultimately extended South Korea US$ 899 million in grants and loans, part of which Seoul used to help assist independence activists and conscripted laborers, as well as their families.
“Park decided to invest much of the funds in new infrastructure, such as dams, steel mills, and highways, managing to realize the phenomenal postwar South Korean economic boom known as the ‘Miracle on the Han River’ that also benefited former ‘comfort women,’ conscripted laborers, independence activists, and their families. The Japanese funds are credited with 20% of Korea’s economic growth between 1966 and 1975. Park’s decision brought about good results for our two nations.”
At this juncture, it appears that Japan likely has no choice but to keep harping on these historical facts to President Moon, persistently reminding him of how critically important a more stable Japan-South Korea partnership is for the security of both nations and the Asia-Pacific region.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 767 in the August 24, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)