Political leaders' duplicity raises doubt about sincerity
"Honne" and "tatemae" are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person's true feelings and behavior that he or she displays in public. Watching the seemingly incurable relationship between Korea and Japan, one cannot help but suspect that this typical, and well-intentioned, originally, Japanese trait is evident in that country's foreign policy ― in a not so desirable way.
A case in point is the demand for a bilateral summit made so stubbornly by Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself. It defies our understanding why, and how, the Japanese government should make a "summit offensive" despite the Korean government's repeated replies that the time is not ripe yet.
It is common sense that governments should pave the way for a summit by trying to dissolve major pending issues. But Tokyo has not made such efforts, leading to suspicions here over whether it has something else in mind ― a political calculation to pass the buck to Seoul for the diplomatic impasse.
Japan, which has been pressured by the United States to mend ties with its nearest rival to play a larger political and military role in Asia, seems to be demonstrating Seoul is turning a deaf ear to its sincere efforts.
Prime Minister Abe needs to consider why such duplicity makes him the last global leader President Park Geun-hye wants to meet.
No less doubtful is the Japanese government's change of stance on President Park's proposal to make a joint history textbook consisting of contributions from three Northeast Asian countries ― from deep skepticism to enthusiastic welcome, in just four days. It is small surprise then that most Koreans suspect Japan will try to use the forum of common research as a stage on which to reiterate its previous allegations, claiming, for example, that the issues of wartime sexual enslavement and forced labor have already been settled legally.
Nothing showed Japan's duplicity underneath its about-face on the joint history book proposal better than Tokyo's latest protest to Beijing's honoring of Korea's most famous independence fighter Ahn Jung-keun, who assassinated Japans' first governor general in Korea, Hirobumi Ito, in Harbin, China, in 1910. Taking issue with President Park's appreciation of the Chinese efforts to memorialize Ahn, Japan's government spokesman said, "Ahn Jung-keun is but a criminal for Japan."
The remark ― and Abe's previous comment that Korea should also value the fact that Ito is a great man respected by the Japanese people ― not just shows how wide the gap is between historical perceptions of the two nations but Japan's deep-seated refusal to acknowledge the pain and suffering the Imperial Japan inflicted on its Asian neighbors. For Koreans, and not a few Chinese, Ahn is a revered symbol of resistance to the Japanese invaders by removing the mastermind of the "gigantic crime" of depriving Korea's sovereignty and colonizing the nearby nation against the wishes of its people.
On Tuesday, the Korean government made public additional official list of Koreans killed by Japan during the independence movement in 1919 and victims of Tokyo's massacre following a powerful earthquake four years later. We will watch how the Japanese people, notoriously meticulous in keeping and respecting written records as historical evidence, would respond to them.
If Tokyo ends up repeating its argument that the 1965 normalization accord has settled these problems once and for all, it will only deepen Koreans' suspicions about Japan's diplomatic "honne" and "tatemae."