TOP SOUTH KOREAN LAWMAKER ANGERS JAPANESE WITH REVISONIST REMARKS ABOUT HISTORY
On February 18, Moon Hee-sang, the speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly, called Japan a “brazen thief” for demanding an apology and a retraction of his earlier remarks that the emperor of Japan should apologize to South Koreans over the “comfort woman” issue. “What am I to make of this situation in which those who should apologize don’t and instead tell me to apologize? Tokyo is acting like a brazen thief,” Moon said.
During an interview with Bloomberg News in Seoul on February 7, Moon angered Japanese by stressing that an apology from Emperor Akihito, whom he called “the son of the main culprit of war crimes,” would resolve the “comfort women” issue. Moon was quoted as reasoning: “It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan…I wish the emperor would do so since he will step down soon. Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes? So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly (former ‘comfort women’) and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all.”
During a Lower House Budgetary Committee meeting on February 13, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sternly criticized Moon, urging him to extend an apology and retract his remarks. Abe emphasized: “I believe many Japanese people felt shocked and angered by Moon’s inappropriate remarks last Thursday (February 7). It is extremely deplorable that the speaker has been apparently repeating similar remarks.” Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga joined Abe in voicing strong protest.
Moon responded to Abe’s reaction by once again calling Japan “a brazen thief,” giving his own interpretation of the prime minister’s move as reflecting the “politically motivated thought of someone who has his back against the wall domestically.”
Tetsuhide Yamaoka, Representative Director of the Australia-Japan Community Network Inc., observed:
“Most Japanese still do not know the full extent of the ‘insolence’ of Moon’s February 7 remarks because they only read Japanese-language news about this incident.”
Noting that he had obtained the audio data of Moon’s remarks from Bloomberg News to translate them into precise Japanese, enlisting the cooperation of a native Korean, Yamaoka pointed out:
“Japanese dailies have not reported on Moon’s remarks verbatim as their editors hesitated to directly cite Moon’s inappropriate use of words when he made the controversial remarks on February 7. As to who should apologize to former Korean ‘comfort women,’ I have discovered that the words Moon actually used to refer to the emperor were, respectively, ‘king’ instead of ‘emperor’ and ‘some senior guy’ instead of “a person: ‘It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan…I wish the king would do it since he will step down soon. Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes? So, if some senior guy like that holds the hands of…”
Yamaoka took issue with Moon’s reference to “the king,” claiming Moon presumably intended to assign a lower rank to the emperor. Also, while the Japanese media reported that Moon called the emperor “a person” during the interview, he actually referred to him as an “ajeossi,” a Korean word roughly translated as “some senior guy” with no proper respect attached. Because Moon’s public remarks as the speaker of the South Korean National Assembly carry much weight internationally as an official voice of South Korea, Yamaoka felt his discourteous references to the emperor were inappropriate.
There is no reason why Japanese should not be upset by Moon’s remarks. But Hong Hyun, chief editorial writer for The Unification Daily, a Japanese language weekly newspaper for Korean residents in Japan specializing in the issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula, had this to say:
“You don’t need to take those trashy remarks by Moon seriously. As a matter of fact, the politician he is said to respect most is Kim Dae-jung—the former South Korean president who clandestinely gave US$450 million to Kim Jong-il just to get him to agree to the North-South summit in 2000. Moon also sings the praises of Roh Moo-hyun and Moon Jae-in, both of them leftwing politicians who are not only anti-Japan but also anti-South and pro-North.
“Kim, Roh, and Moon have betrayed South Korea and implemented policies designed to ruin it, viewing the North as superior to the South in all respects. Speaker Moon is in the same boat, so it’s meaningless to be incensed by every word he utters. But don’t ignore the fact that there are fine conservative forces in the South today, engaged in a courageous fight against these progressive revolutionary forces.”
There is no question that today’s South Korea is in a virtual state of civil war. But the top members of the Moon administration from President Moon himself and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa down have shown no signs of having the speaker retract his remarks. Neither does the speaker have any intension of doing so. It is quite obvious that the entire South Korean government is tightly united against Japan in light of the responses to the issues of war-time Korean workers in Japan and the “comfort women.”
Chung Dae-Kyun, Emeritus Professor of Tokyo Metropolitan University who serves as a senior research fellow at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), the Tokyo-based privately-financed think tank that I head, attributes this South Korean divergence to its constitution, pointing out in a column in JINF’s latest homepage:
“The preamble of the constitution of the Republic of Korea states: ‘We, the people of Korea, proud of a resplendent history and traditions dating from time immemorial, (uphold) the cause of the provisional government of the Republic of Korea born of the March First Independence Movement of 1919…’”
As is generally known, the “March 1 Movement” refers to a massive anti-Japanese independence movement begun on March 1, 1919 which quickly spread across the Korean Peninsula. The forces that promoted this campaign initially formed a provisional government in Shanghai but failed to become a major force, finally settling in Chongqing in Sichuan Province in 1940 after many twists and turns.
During his official visit to China in December 2017, seven months after his inauguration, President Moon visited the Museum of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai—the site of the former Korean provisional government—declaring that the provisional government is the “foundation” of South Korea.
Professor Chung points out that this historical view held by President Moon perfectly matches the one stipulated in the preamble of the nation’s constitution. To him, the provisional government formed in 1919 is the authentic government of the Republic of Korea representing South Koreans, meaning that Japan’s rule of the Korean Peninsula 1910-45 was null and void because it was “unlawful.”
In point of fact, the Empire of Japan signed a treaty with the Korean Empire in 1910 to formally annex Korea. But neither President Moon nor the South Korean constitution recognizes it. The Korean leadership asserts that the Japan-Korea Protectorate Treaty signed formally between the two nations in 1905 was unlawful under international law because Japan “threatened Korea into signing it.” Under this treaty Japan deprived Korea of diplomatic sovereignty, formally making it its protectorate. The present South Korean leadership claims the subsequent Japanese annexation of Korea as null and void because the protectorate treaty of 1905 was unlawful in the first place.
South Korea applied the same logic last October, when its top court rendered a verdict ordering a Japanese company to compensate four former Korean workers for alleged forced wartime labor in Japan. The court ordered the company to pay compensation on the grounds that Japan’s annexation itself was illegal and contrary to Korean public order and accepted principles of morality, and that the Korean government today therefore does not recognize as lawful any actions Japan took in Korea during its colonial days.
Chung brushes aside such an historical interpretation as complete fiction. First of all, he asserts that the international community at the time recognized Japan’s annexation of Korea. On the other hand, no government recognized the provisional Korean government in China. Moon claims that his government views the 1919 provisional government as its “foundation,” but has he by any chance forgotten that the Republic of Korea was actually born in Seoul in 1948, three years after the end of the Greater East Asia War? Noting the vital importance of Japan talking straight to its immediate neighbor prone to such arbitrary revisions of history, Chung contends:
“Until Koreans themselves feel moved to modify the preamble of their constitution, an improvement of Japan-South Korea relations cannot be hoped for. However, it is difficult now to even imagine the day when the Koreans themselves are able to view this subject with an objective and critical eye. It is therefore important that we Japanese, especially the government, play a role in providing this perspective. Going forward, the government must seize every opportunity to point out the historical misconceptions in the preamble of the Korean constitution, and keep on explaining—kindly and persistently—how detrimental these misconceptions can be to the formation of mutually beneficial partnership between our two countries.”
The more I think about this situation, the more acutely I feel the need for a research organization specializing in the dissemination of accurate information on historical issues across the globe. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 841 in the February 28, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)