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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#1020】“Truth-Oriented Group for Korea-Japan Friendship” Launched in South Korea

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2023.03.08 (Wed)

March 6, 2023

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol positioned Japan as a “partner” in his address at a ceremony on March 1 to commemorate the March 1 Independence Movement against Japanese rule. Behind this is his sense of crisis that military cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea is indispensable amid North Korea’s almost daily drills to rehearse nuclear attacks.

The South Korean government has also rapidly compiled a plan to have a government-run fund shoulder compensation payments to former wartime Korean workers in Japan to solve the controversy over South Korean Supreme Court’s unjust rulings that ordered Japanese companies to pay the compensations. On the plan announced on March 6, I would comment in my later essay.

Given that the Democratic Party of Korea, the main South Korean opposition group, criticized the Yoon government’s attitude on Japan as a humiliating pro-Japan policy, Japan should see the improved bilateral relations as available only during the Yoon presidency and assume the wartime workers issue could be taken up again if the opposition wins back the government.

Courageous rebuttal to anti-Japan propaganda

The opposition group enjoys a certain level of support because most people in South Korea mistake the so-called wartime forced recruitment and forced labor of Korean workers for a historical fact. The forced recruitment and labor theory was advocated by Korean scholars in Japan affiliated with the pro-Pyongyang Chongryon, or the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, in the 1960s and spread by Japanese leftist scholars and mass media and exported to South Korea as a groundless propaganda. As Koreans who experienced the Japanese rule retired from the front line of the society, the propaganda originating from Japan dominated South Korea.

A group that fights against the propaganda and supports true Japan-Korea friendship has raised its voice. On March 1, Lee Young Hoon, who authored and edited “Anti-Japan Tribalism,” a bestseller in Japan and South Korea, published an opinion advertisement on a leading South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, calling for dropping a “slavish diplomacy to beg for apology.” The assertion that massive Koreans were forcibly taken to Japan to serve as unpaid or little-paid slaves during the war represents a false memory fabricated by a Korean collective emotion and the anti-Japan tribalism, Lee said in the ad.

Based on this position, Lee criticized the Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensations as a big blemish that cannot be eliminated from South Korean judicial history. He also branded the Yoon government’s plan to shoulder the compensation payments in exchange for an apology from the Japanese government and contributions to the fund from Japanese companies as a slavish diplomacy that runs counter to historical facts, fails to be backed by international law and “should not be adopted by an advanced civilized country.”

Lee criticized the government for excluding him and other experts who have advocated opinions based on historical facts and international law from forums to consider solutions to the issue. Warning that a diplomacy that is not based on truth would ruin a country, he urged the Yoon government to immediately stop its fake and slavish diplomacy and to declare that there exists no historical issue any more with Japan.

Japan should avoid easy concessions

On the same day, a total of 46 intellectuals including Lee issued a statement calling on the Yoon government to declare the end of historical disputes with Japan. They named themselves as a “truth-oriented group for Korea-Japan friendship,” elaborating Lee’s opinion ad. True friendship and cooperation can be built only on truth. I would like to emphasize that Japan’s Kishida administration should not make easy concessions that would nullify the courageous proposal by Lee and his group.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.