Japan slams planned memorial in Harbin for anti-Japanese Korean hero

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 November, 2013, 1:06pm

Japan has reacted angrily to plans by South Korea to erect a statue in China to commemorate an independence activist who in October 1909 assassinated the Japanese governor of Korea.

Details of the plan for a memorial to Ahn Jung-guen, who shot Hirobumi Ito on a platform at Harbin’s railway station, were discussed in a meeting in Seoul on Monday between Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president, and Yang Jiechi, China’s state councilor.

South Korea has the sovereign right to put up a statue within Korea’s borders, doing it in a third country is a very anti-Japanese action
Yoichi Shimada

According to media reports, Park expressed her gratitude for China’s co-operation with the proposal.

In a press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described Ahn as “a criminal”.

“This is not good for Japan-South Korea relations,” he said, adding that Tokyo’s position that Ahn carried out a criminal act has been conveyed to the South Korean government.

“To us Japanese, Ahn was a terrorist,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Japan’s Fukui Prefectural University. “And while I agree that South Korea has the sovereign right to put up a statue within Korea’s borders, doing it in a third country is a very anti-Japanese action.

“It makes me question whether Mrs Park really wants better relations with Japan at all,” Professor Shimada told The South China Morning Post, adding that the South Korean leader “should have better advisers.”

There are also implications for China, he added, suggesting that if Beijing permits the proposal to go ahead, it can have no complaints if the Uygur or Tibetan minorities choose to erect statues of their freedom fighters in other countries.

A memorial to Ahn has already been erected in Seoul and one of South Korea’s submarines has been named after him. North Korea made a propaganda movie based on the story, in part as Ahn was born in Hwanghae province in what is today North Korea.

According to accounts of the incident, Ahn shot Ito three times as he emerged from a train where he had been negotiating with representatives of the Russian government. Ito, the first prime minister of Japan, had recently concluded the signing of the Eulsa Treaty, which effectively sealed the annexation of the Korean Peninsula by Japan.

Three other senior Japanese officials were also shot and seriously injured before Ahn shouted for Korean independence and waved the Korean flag.

After his arrest, Ahn was quoted as saying, “I have ventured to commit a serious crime, offering my life for my country. This is the behaviour of a noble-minded patriot.”

Despite demanding that he be recognised by the court as a prisoner of war and justifying his actions with a list of 15 reasons for his action – including Ito’s responsibility for the assassination of Korean Empress Myeongseong and forcing 14 treaties in Korea – the Japanese court in Ryojun treated Ahn as a common criminal, found him guilty and sentenced to death.

He was hung on March 26, 1910. The location of his grave has never been confirmed.