The relationship between South Korea and Japan is plunging toward its nadir as Tokyo shows no signs of willingness to improve the strained ties with its onetime colony amid escalating territorial and historical friction.
Hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that Tokyo was considering taking the territorial spat over South Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo to the International Court of Justice.
His remarks during a parliamentary session came after Tokyo’s stepped-up claim to the islets in its textbook guidelines exacerbated public resentment in Korea, which suffered through Japan’s colonization from 1910-45.
Seoul dismissed Abe’s remarks as mere “empty talk,” reiterating that Dokdo was not in dispute, and that it was part of Korea’s territory historically, geographically and by international law.
“There is no dispute over Dokdo that needs to be settled. Thus, Tokyo’s mention of the ICJ litigation is only empty talk. No matter what they may do, it would turn out to be only meaningless,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Observers here criticized Japan’s consideration of the ICJ litigation as a “political ploy” given that the court proceedings cannot be initiated without Seoul’s consent. Korea has not accepted the court’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Pundits also pointed out that Tokyo might seek to utilize the litigation itself to make Dokdo an international dispute and to claim that Seoul is not confident in its argument about the sovereignty issue.
Japan incorporated the islets as part of its territory in 1905 before colonizing the entire Korean Peninsula. Korea has been in effective control of them with a small police detachment there since its liberation in 1945.
On Friday, Abe once again drew the ire of Seoul and Beijing, two major victims of Japan’s past militarism, by failing to mention Tokyo’s past acknowledgement of its wartime colonization and aggression, while referring to the “Murayama Statement” during a parliamentary session.
In the landmark 1995 statement, former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama officially apologized for Japan’s colonial occupation of Asian countries and its wartime invasions.
“The issue of the historical perception should be left for historians to deal with,” Abe told the parliamentary session.
On Aug. 15 last year when Japan held a memorial ceremony for Japanese war dead, Abe also did not mention the wartime damage, which his country inflicted on Asian states, and its contrition, angering Seoul and Beijing. Former prime ministers have expressed Tokyo’s repentance for the damage during the annual ceremony since 1993.
Abe also drew sharp criticism last April by saying that the definition of invasion remains “ill-defined” academically and internationally. At the time, the remarks were deemed to indicate his inclination toward reversing the Murayama Statement.
Amid Tokyo’s lack of atonement for its brutal past, Seoul, Pyongyang and Beijing stepped up their criticism of Japan’s revisionist view of history during an open debate at the U.N. Security Council last Wednesday.
“Japanese political leaders’ worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine is a direct challenge to the foundation on which Japan rejoined the international community in the post-war world,” said Oh Joon, Seoul’s top envoy to the U.N.
“Such remarks and actions undermine future-oriented relations and peace building among nations in the region. They also run counter to the objectives and spirit of the United Nations, which reflect the aspirations of people for peace after experiencing the most horrendous war in history.”
Meanwhile, in an Op-Ed piece published in The Washington Post on Friday, three scholars of the U.S. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies ― Richard Armitage, Michael Green and Victor Cha ― argued that President Barack Obama should add Seoul to his April visit to Asia, noting the role he could play to foster future-oriented relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
“Visiting key treaty allies Tokyo and Manila, while skipping another key ally, South Korea, on Obama’s first trip to Asia in his second term would be an embarrassment for South Korean President Park Geun-hye, particularly given how prickly relations are between Tokyo and Seoul,” the Op-Ed reads.
“We would not recommend that Obama try to arbitrate the complex historical problems between Japan and South Korea. But this trip is the ideal opportunity to keep the leadership in Tokyo and Seoul focused on what we can and must do together in the future.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)