Anger at support for colonial rule

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 March, 2005, 12:00am

In a reminder of the bitter legacy over Japanese colonial rule of South Korea, a scholar has provoked outrage after describing Japanese colonialism as a 'blessing' for the peninsula.

His opinions, contained in a magazine article, come amid rising tension between Seoul and Tokyo over a set of contested islands in the Sea of Japan, that Seoul refers to as the East Sea.

Hahn Sung-joe, a professor at Korea University, one of the country's top schools, praised Japan's 1910-35 occupation in Seiron, a monthly magazine published by the Japanese Sankei newspaper.

'We should feel grateful for the Japanese occupation of Korea, instead of criticising it,' Professor Hahn wrote. 'It was rather a blessing for Korea.'

Professor Hahn argued that the early 20th century was characterised by fierce competition among world powers for influence in Asia and that if Japan had not occupied Korea, Russia would have done so.

'If it were Russia, the Korean Peninsula would have been communised. Korean people would have been dispersed under Stalin's policies. Therefore, I think Japan's colonial rule rather reinforced Koreans' awareness and nationalism.'

The professor's views, which are practically taboo in South Korea, were expanded in subsequent interviews with the Korean media, unleashing anger across the political spectrum.

'The assertion that Korea would have been annexed one way or the other is a sophism that Japanese right-wingers have been peddling for a long time,' said South Korea's right-wing Chosun newspaper.

'From a senior scholar of political science with a career spanning nearly 40 years it is incomprehensible.'

Anger has been compounded by his call for an end to compensation claims for Korean women who were forced to work as sex slaves during the second world war.

'A Korean academic has provided opportunities to Japan's right-wing politicians to continue their thoughtless claims,' said Kang Ju-hye, secretary-general of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.

Professor Hahn has been forced to resign as chairman of The Free Citizens Alliance of Korea, an umbrella group of conservative civic organisations.

'We are outraged by Hahn's claim that Japanese colonial rule was justified and that the conscription of 'comfort women' was unimportant,' a spokesman said.

The professor's website has been bombarded with vitriol, with one internet user advising the 74-year-old to go and live in Japan.