South Korea And Japan: Burying An Ugly Past To Counter China's Rise
South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, made a gesture of reconciliation towards Japan, the country's former colonizer. It gives Washington hope that its two key Asian allies can overcome differences as they face an emboldened China and North Korea.
South Korea's leader President Yoon took advantage of the commemoration of a key date in the Japanese occupation of South Korea, March 1, 1919, to make an unequivocal statement: "Today, more than a century after the March 1 movement, Japan has transformed from a militaristic aggressor of the past into a partner with whom we share the same universal values."
It was an outstretched hand with no conditions attached.
The subject remains sensitive in South Korea, and the leader of the opposition immediately accused the president of having a "submissive" attitude towards Japan. His reaction shows the weight of Yoon's gesture, because it is not obvious that it is one completely shared by the South Korean public.
No reconciliation process
In 1910, Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan and was considered part of the Japanese Empire until 1945. During that time, Japan launched an all-out attack on Korean culture to cement its position.
Asia has not undergone a reconciliation process like Europe with Germany after World War II. The divisions of the Cold War, and the ambiguity of a Japan still being led by the same emperor after its defeat, prevented true reconciliation.
It took some audacity to overcome the wounds of history.
Despite Japan's financial reparations to China and Korea, as well as advanced political and economic relations, it takes little to reignite memorial tensions. In Korea, the issue of compensation for forced labor and "comfort women," who were into forced prostitution with Japanese soldiers, has never been fully resolved. Add territorial conflicts over the possession of certain islands, and you have an insoluble equation.
This is all the more paradoxical as South Korea and Japan are both allies of the United States and have the same geopolitical interests.
ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol, US President Biden and Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in a 2022 meeting.
The Americans have worked hard to reduce tensions between their two main Asian allies. That was done without much success for a long time, despite the rising tensions with China and North Korea.
But in the climate of the Cold War that is settling in Asia, and which constantly threatens to escalate into confrontation, Seoul and Tokyo are worried. They are concerned about China's military power in the South China Sea and around Taiwan, and North Korea's aggressiveness, which is using increasingly sophisticated missile tests.
Japan has just announced the doubling of its defense spending by 2028, while South Korea is openly discussing acquiring nuclear weapons. The rapprochement of these two allies of the United States was obvious, but it took some audacity to overcome the wounds of history.
There is certainly still a long way to go to achieve this reconciliation, but yesterday's speech opens up a possible path. To the delight of Washington, and the displeasure of Beijing and Pyongyang.
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