Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

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Kazuhiko Inoue

【#294】Why Did Palau Welcome Japan’s Imperial Couple?

Kazuhiko Inoue / 2015.04.15 (Wed)

April 13, 2015

     When Japanese Emperor Akihito realized his long-cherished wish to console the souls of the war dead in Palau on April 8 and 9, the island country's enthusiastic welcome of the emperor was very impressive.

Japan's contribution to modernizing Palau
     As Palau turned from a German colony to a Japanese mandate from the League of Nations as agreed at a Paris peace conference following World War I, the Japanese government established a local administrative agency called Nanyo-cho. Palau under Japanese rule developed infrastructure, educational institutions and healthcare facilities for modernization, as did Taiwan and Korea also under Japanese rule then.
     Palauan people's living standards improved fast thanks to the development of indispensable infrastructure including roads, bridges, and water and electricity supply facilities. In 1915, a school for native Palauan children opened on Koror Island. Later, such schools were established in Malekeok, Ngaraard, Peleliu, Angaur and Mgardmau. In addition, hospitals and other healthcare facilities were built. Japan thus implemented a rule that differed totally from Western powers' ochlocratic policy to exploit colonies.
     During World War II, Japanese forces led Palauan natives to evacuate out of Pelelieu Island before waging a severe battle with American forces. There are reasons no Palauan people criticized Japan's prewar and wartime policies in response to questions from Japanese reporters toward the emperor’s visit to Palau.

Korean group erected anti-Japanese monument
     But South Korea has driven a wedge into the pro-Japan South Pacific island country.
     In 1977, a South Korean construction company built the so-called KB bridge between Koror Island where the Palauan capital had been formerly located and the largest Palauan island of Babeldaob. On September 29, 1996, however, the bridge collapsed into waters with a roar with its center broken. Palauan people then learned that cheaper ones would be worse. In the next year, a decision came to build a new bridge with Japanese aid. In 2002, the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge was completed.
     In two years after the new bridge's completion, however, a South Korean organization erected an anti-Japanese monument at a location only 150 meters from the parliament building on Babeldaob Island, claiming that Japan took Koreans to Palau and forced them to work or abused them before the end of the war.
     Among regions put under Japanese rule in the past, Palau and Taiwan have praised the past Japanese rule with some of their people longing for the days of the rule. Why does South Korea alone view the days of the Japanese rule as a dark period? Did Japan impose any particularly severe control only on the Korean Peninsula?
     Questing for the modern history of Palau attracting attention with the Japanese imperial couple's visit will help us to counter South Korea's accusation against Japan over history.

Kazuhiko Inoue is a guest researcher of JINF and a military affairs journalist.