Japan-South Korea relations

Tokyo reacts to anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea

Japanese attitudes towards South Korea harden in the wake of criticism over Tokyo's wartime actions and Seoul's pivot to major trading partner China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 November, 2013, 1:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 2:11pm

The attitudes of Japanese people and government have “gone beyond resentment” towards South Korea as a result of the anti-Japanese feeling that is being whipped up by Seoul, according to a professor of international relations.

“Most people in Japan believe that South Korea has already gone too far and they are simply not interested in dealing with Korea any more,” said Tomohito Shinoda, a professor at The International University of Japan, in Niigata Prefecture.

“The saddest thing is the way in which the South Korean media is over-reacting at every opportunity and making some very stupid comments,” he said.

Relations between the two nations have been rocky for decades over a number of issues – many of which appear intractable.

There is still resentment towards Japan for what is perceived as a failure to apologise and compensate adequately for its years of colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Tokyo counters that historical issues were settled with the signing of the treaty in the 1965 to normalise diplomatic relations.

Many in Korea are also angry over the women forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation, perceived errors in Japanese school history text books here and Japan’s ongoing claim to sovereignty over the Dok-do islands, which Tokyo still marks as Takeshima on its maps.

Tensions have been ratcheted up in the last couple of years, with former slave labourers starting legal action against Japanese companies for redress, ‘comfort women’ stepping up their campaign for recognition and Seoul becoming more vocal in its demands that Japan be more honest about the suffering it caused during the colonial era.

The strongly-worded criticisms have been intensified this week after the re-discovery of documents in the South Korean embassy in Tokyo that shed new light on the Koreans forced to labour in Japan in the early decades of the last century, as well as details on the Koreans killed by vigilante mobs in the aftermath of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.

The records showed once again how terrible Japan’s misdeeds were during its past imperialistic era,” Cho Tai-young, a spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing in Seoul on Tuesday, Yonhap News reported.

“The Japanese side should be well aware of them,” he said, adding that the documents could be used to file new demands for compensation from the Japanese government.

Seoul also vowed earlier this week to push ahead with a plan to erect a statue in the Chinese city in honour of Ahn Jung-guen, the independence activist who was executed in 1910 for the assassination of Hirobumi Ito, the Japanese governor of Korea.

Koreans’ attitudes would not have been improved after an apparently exasperated Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, said in an interview with the Shukan Bunshun magazine that South Korea is “simply a silly nation” for taking such a hard-line stance against Japan.

“I think there are two main elements behind South Korea’s attitude,” said Professor Shinoda. “The first is that the new administration of Park Geun-hye is having to face up to her past. Her father [president Park Chung-hee] was very pro-Japan and in order to strengthen her administration, Park has to be seen to be anti-Japanese.

“The second reason is more an economic issue,” he added. “South Korea is heavily dependent on foreign trade and today, around half of that trade is with China. That means there has been a shift in Korea away from trade with Japan to an increased reliance on China.”