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Saturday, June 11, 2005

DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTION DOCUMENTED

Gaps dog history study with South Korea


Staff writer

Japan and South Korea released a full-scale report on their joint history research Friday, detailing huge gaps in perception on key events that have repeatedly caused friction between the two nations.

News photo
This undated file photo shows the former headquarters of the Government-General of Chosen (Korea) in Seoul. The building was dismantled in 1996.

Instead of a joint perception of history, the 1,900-page report merely presents the views of both sides, including Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule, because it was "impossible" to map out a collective view, members of the joint group said.

The report is part of a bilateral project aimed at promoting mutual understanding and bridging gaps in perceptions of history. The project was agreed on in October 2001 at a summit between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung.

Tokyo and Seoul hope to begin the second round of the joint history panel by the end of the year. The second round is to include a study of history textbooks from both nations.

According to the report, the joint panel, which was made up of university professors, history experts and researchers from both countries, clashed over past and present issues, particularly whether South Korean people have the right to seek compensation from Japan over Japan's colonial rule.

The 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea that normalized Tokyo-Seoul ties states that the issue of Japan's obligation to compensate the property and rights of South Korea and its people was resolved in a "complete and ultimate" manner.

Japan maintains it has no further obligation to compensate South Koreans over the colonial rule.

However, members of the South Korean panel argued that, although the issue of compensation may have been resolved at the government level, South Korean individuals still have the right to claim damages inflicted under Japan's colonial rule.

Kim Seong Bo from South Korea said South Koreans have the right to claim redress because the issue of the wartime sex slaves was not discussed during the 1965 treaty negotiations.

Japan forced thousands of women, mainly Koreans, into sexual slavery for its wartime Japanese soldiers. They are euphemistically referred to as "comfort women" in Japan.

Yoo Byong Yong, another South Korean panel member, said the 1965 treaty was the result of a "political compromise" that failed to deal "thoroughly with various issues of history." Yoo urged both sides to start fresh negotiations on reviewing the treaty.

But Japanese panel member Masao Okonogi claimed Yoo's proposal would waste years of diplomatic effort, saying it is "impossible to revise history" by having another round of negotiations.

Okonogi said he was "surprised and deeply disappointed" that Yoo failed to maintain an objective view of history, and denounced his argument as political rather than academic.

Both sides also disagreed over the validity of the 1905 Japan-Korea agreement, through which Japan made Korea its protectorate, and the Japan-Korea annexation treaty signed in 1910, which led to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula until 1945.

Japan may have pressured Korea into signing the 1905 agreement, but it did not threaten force, claimed Shigeki Sakamoto, who said the agreement was valid.

According to international law at the time, a treaty is invalid if a nation's leader is threatened by force to sign it.

But Kim Do Hyung, another South Korean panel member, claimed the Imperial Japanese Army surrounded Korea's palace, confined government officials who voiced opposition and threatened them with force.

As for the 1910 annexation treaty, Kim Do Hyung argued it is invalid because it wasn't ratified.

The scholars, who completed their reports in May, are one year behind schedule.

The study group was divided into three subgroups — one on ancient history, another on medieval history and the third on modern history.

The report includes also the South Korean experts' view of Koizumi's policy toward North Korea, including his visits to Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004. They say his policy was strongly influenced by Washington.

But Japanese scholars say it is not possible to analyze policy that is being implemented.

Later in the day, Koizumi called for deeper ties with South Korea by overcoming the gaps on their conflicting perceptions of history.

"I think it's all right that views are different among historians," Koizumi told reporters at his office.

"It is not the case that we cannot keep friendly relations due to differences. Summit talks are held to deepen friendship while mutually recognizing differences," he said, referring to the planned summit later this month with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun.

The report can be viewed on the Web site of the Japan-Korea Cultural Foundation at www.jkcf.or.jp/history in both Japanese and Korean.


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The Japan Times

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