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South Korea’s anti-Japan diplomatic manoeuvring goes too far

Publication Date : 22-01-2014


China and South Korea have intensified their cooperation in attempting to pressure Japan over historical issues. This is a worrisome situation.

A memorial hall for Ahn Jung Geun has opened at Harbin Railway Station in China’s Heilongjiang Province. Ahn, a Korean independence activist, assassinated Hirobumi Ito, Japan’s first governor general of Korea. In South Korea, Ahn is seen as a hero for resisting Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In June, South Korean President Park Guen-hye asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to erect a monument at the railway station, the site of the assassination. China acceded and constructed the memorial hall.

Park’s intent appears to have been to join forces with China over historical issues concerning Japan.

The South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry has welcomed the opening of the hall, emphasising that Ahn “is respected by the people of South Korea and China”.

Yet we feel the memorial hall—built with no regard for Japan’s position or its national sentiments—is absolutely unacceptable.

The Japanese government has repeatedly conveyed to both countries its concerns over the monument’s construction. It is only reasonable that the government has protested the opening of the hall to both the South Korean and Chinese governments through diplomatic channels.

Calling Ahn “a terrorist who killed our country’s first prime minister and was sentenced to death”, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the cooperation between China and South Korea over this issue “will not contribute to regional peace and to building cooperative relationships”.

China’s decision to build the memorial hall in response to Park’s proposal is also questionable.

China is a multiethnic nation, and praising Ahn risks stirring up ethnic consciousness among the ethnic Koreans living within its borders.

China driving a wedge

Yet it appears that anti-Japan sentiments prodded China to open the memorial hall, probably out of a desire to curry favour with South Korea diplomatically. China seems to be attempting to drive a wedge into the diplomatic and security arrangements among Japan, the United States and South Korea.

Meanwhile, apart from the issues surrounding the Ahn memorial, South Korea has intensified its one-sided assertions regarding its historical perceptions. We cannot overlook the fact that such assertions undermine Japan’s position in international institutions and in the eyes of other countries.

The government of South Korea has begun preparations for registering testimonies by former “comfort women” with Unesco's Memory of the World programme.

South Korea has also decided to display works of art that are based on the comfort women issue at an international comic book festival in France.

In the United States, a group affiliated with South Korea is lobbying for public school textbooks to refer the waters between Japan and South Korea the “East Sea,” as is called in South Korea, in addition to the “Sea of Japan”.

The Japanese government must counter South Korea’s persistent diplomatic maneuvering by thoroughly and tenaciously presenting correct facts to the international community.


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