Arguing with the neighbours

The lead headline in the front page of the January 29th edition of the English-language newspaper, The Korean Times, said “Korea slams Japan over Dokdo”, with a subheading that quoted a Korean Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesman as saying “Japan will face untold consequences”.

On the same day, The Korea Herald, another English-language newspaper, had the lead headline “Tokyo revises textbook guidance on Dokdo claim”.

what_the_papers_say2Moving on to 3rd February, The Korea Herald ran the front-page headline shown in the photo above, next to a photo of the U.S. chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee¬†paying respects to a “comfort women” statue in California. The caption goes on to say “The statue was erected last year to honor the Asian women and girls who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II”.

what_the_papers_say1

You have to go to the editorial in the China Daily newspaper to read the “Japan brainwashing kids” headline shown above.

The headlines, together with the text underneath, show that there’s real anger in Korea and China. It’s all about the revision of school text books in Japan to say that the Dokdo islets (i.e. too small even to be called islands), claimed by Korea, and Diaoyu Islands (claimed by China) will be described as an integral part of Japanese territory.

Let me quote from the China Daily, representative of the articles beneath all the headlines:

“The media in Japan reported on Tuesday that the Japanese education ministry will revise its teaching materials so that the Diaoyu islands – an integral part of Chinese territories, will be described as an integral part of Japan’s under the name of Senkaku.

“The fact-twisting textbooks for schools will teach Japanese students a false version of history, which risks breeding generations of confrontation, says a Xinhua News Agency commentary.

“Japan’s revisionists have for a long time attempted to whitewash Japan’s wartime past in its school history books, hurting and outraging its Asian neighbours whose sufferings as a result of Japan’s brutal wartime aggression is never mentioned.”

To be fair, the Chinese and Koreans are pretty good at teaching their own versions of history – the text in the newspapers is pretty inflexible and doesn’t show much evidence of reflection.

Whatever the importance of Dokdo/Takeshima or Diaoyu/Senkaku, the current spat is indicative of greater underlying problems. Whereas in Europe there’s real trust between old enemies of World War II, that trust hasn’t been achieved in Asia. That trust is nothing to do with how much money has been paid, but by the will of all parties to learn from the past in order to avoid repeating it. Japan may believe that they have paid their dues since the end of the war, but their neighbours don’t see that at all. I’m a great admirer of all things Japanese, but it’s not surprising that the actions of Prime Minister Abe and other right-wing politicians will make their neighbours nervous and angry.

Korea seems to be caught in the middle – literally. While Korea argues with Japan to the east, China flexes its muscles to the west as it gains increasing power and influence on the world stage.