| 25.03.2005 |
An Open Letter to the Nation by
President Roh Moo-hyun
Concerning Korea-Japan Relations
President Roh posted this open letter to the nation today on the Cheong Wa Dae News corner of the Cheong Wa Dae homepage.
My fellow Koreans,
I am fully aware of your anger as I have been reading and watching various media reports. Besides, I share the frustration weighing heavily upon the hearts of many of you who have remained silent.
I am releasing this message to the nation to help ease the indignation and heavy feelings that Korean citizens must have.
What you are frustrated with may be that it is hard to predict a happy ending despite your great indignation and protests. I know that when the Government reacted tepidly or seemed to have generated few results after taking tough responses, the Korean people swallowed their anger, knowing that there was no really effective means by which to carry through their will.
You may feel the same way about the Government’s reaction this time as you did before-maybe a little bit better, but still frustrated because you think it would be difficult to expect any satisfactory outcome from the current issue.
My fellow Koreans,
It will be different this time, however. The Government will handle this issue in a proper manner. Of course, the Government will not take a hard-line stance emotionally. It will have a strategy to cope with the issue, carefully but actively. It will not back down in the middle of the process. It will look far and act steadily.
Japan is proceeding with lively discussions about rearmament, after laying the legal foundation for overseas deployment of the Self-defense Forces. All of this reminds us of our painful past and causes us anguish about the future.
When Japan offered apologies in the past, we accepted them and pledged a partnership; at that time we did so because we thought it might be hard for the Japanese people to understand us if we denied them recognition of their country as an ordinary nation state. Based on such a judgment, we have held our tongues, repressing our worries-all for the sake of the future of Korea-Japan relations.
Given that an apology presupposes sincere reflection and corresponding actions, Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to the Shinto shrine undermine the sincerity of reflection and apologies made by former Japanese leaders.
Nevertheless, the Korean Government went no further than implicitly urging him to refrain from the visits, without raising any direct diplomatic issue or taking countermeasures. That was indeed for the sake of a forward-looking bilateral relationship, which Japanese leaders had always urged repeatedly. However, we have come to the point where we can no longer overlook the situation in silence.
The Russo-Japanese War was not a conflict between the two countries over territory, as the name implies, but one of aggression into the Korean Peninsula that Japan started for the complete dominance of Korea. In fact, a victorious Japan immediately stripped Korea of its diplomatic authority and began de facto colonial rule.
During the war, Japan incorporated Dokdo island into its own territory. Indeed, it robbed of us Dokdo with military might. Japan’s Shimane Prefecture designated February 22, the very day when Japan incorporated Dokdo into its territory 100 years ago, as "Takeshima Day." That is an act justifying its invasion and denying Korea’s independence.
The same goes with the textbook issue. In the past, when distorted textbooks were adopted by only a few Japanese schools, we placed high expectations on the conscience of Japan and had an optimistic outlook for the future of Northeast Asia. But now, those distorted textbooks are about to be revived. That, too, is an attempt to justify Japan’s history of aggression.
We cannot help but regard these acts as those of the Japanese nation because they are not simply committed by a local government or a group of thoughtless ultra-nationalists; they are being done with implicit support from the country’s ruling group and the central government. These acts nullify all the reflection and apologies Japan has so far made.
Now, the Korean Government has no choice but to respond sternly. We can no longer stand by and watch Japan’s attempts to justify its history of aggression and occupation and its intention to achieve hegemony again, because this is a matter that will determine the future of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.
It is true that such acts by Japan do not correspond with the intention of the majority of the Japanese people. But, things could change any time if Japan keeps distorting history, instigated by its political leaders.
The Government will act resolutely. It is true that even though the Government had something to say and arguments to make, it has so far been biting its tongue, leaving them in the hands of nongovernmental organizations or the victims of Japan’s colonial rule.
Neither did the Government listen carefully to the painful outcries from the victims nor offered proper help to them even when they were hitting the streets struggling to find the truth. It must have refrained from doing so in consideration of the diplomatic burden or possible impact on the economy caused by an inter-governmental conflict. More than anything else, however, it must have exercised self-restraint for the sake of a forward-looking Korea-Japan relationship.
But what came back to us in return is Japan’s behavior that does not seem to show any consideration for the future. Now, some people are asking if the Korean Government’s inaction has led Japan to become so inconsiderate. We cannot let that happen. From now on, the Government will do everything it can.
First of all, the Government will take resolute diplomatic action. The core of our diplomatic responses will be to sternly demand that the Japanese Government correct the wrongs. It is doubtful that the Japanese Government will make a sincere response. But we will not stop exerting our claim until Japan says what we deserve to hear.
The next thing is to make our case to the international community. It is a reality that international order is basically founded on power and that national interest comes first in international relations. However, the international community is progressing step by step toward emphasizing universal values and order that all members should respect. If Japan wants to play a role beyond that of an ordinary nation and become a leader in Asia and the world, it must behave in accordance with the just causes learned from history and regain the trust of the international community as an indisputable peace-loving nation.
The international community is also obligated to urge Japan to behave in accordance with the conscience of humanity and the norms of international society. We will try to persuade the international community to never forget those norms.
More important than anything else is to persuade the Japanese people. In order for the issues to be solved ultimately, it is essential for them to face history as it was and understand correctly what their country needs to do for the future of the two countries and Northeast Asia. Only then can the Japanese Government’s policy take the right direction.
These tasks will not be easy to achieve. It is not only a tough but also uncomfortable thing to try to find fault with and point fingers at others. The two countries may confront each other more often than they did. It could also be very embarrassing to quarrel with each other for the whole world to see.
There could be a tough diplomatic war. And that may adversely affect exchanges in economic, social, cultural and various other sectors, especially causing concern about possible economic difficulties.
But we do not have to worry too much about it. I believe that we are capable of enduring a great many difficulties. And we must be determined to bear the hardship on our shoulders if we have to for the sake of our nation. But I will try to manage the situation judiciously so as to prevent unbearably difficult burdens.
No matter what difficulties I may face, I will not back off or obscure the issue, but will continue to deal with the problem until I see a result the Korean people find acceptable. This time, I will never fail to resolve this problem at its core. I will ask for your help, when the going gets tough. I will listen to your voices whenever new things come up.
Now, I would like to ask you to keep several things in mind as I report my determination to you.
First, we must never condone the aggressive intent of some Japanese ultra-nationalists, but this does not mean that we should distrust or antagonize the entire Japanese people. We cannot avoid the fact that we are neighbors. If the people of the two countries harbor distrust and hatred against each other, we would not be able to avoid another enormous misfortune.
Second, I ask you to keep calm and respond with composure. Act sternly, but persuade with reason and dignity. There may be times when there are unpleasant emotions expressed, but never lose control of your emotions. This is not a fight that requires physical power. If we fail to maintain our good cause properly, we are likely to be counterattacked. Please refrain from provoking or insulting the Japanese people.
Third, I ask you to have perseverance and patience. If this is to be called a fight, this fight will not be over in just a day or two. It will be an endurance game. Be determined to endure any difficulties but be wise and patient enough to minimize the consumption of your energy so that it lasts long.
Fourth, look far and act strategically. Judge with prudence. Speak and act slowly. Do not overreact over minor developments or voice too many opinions. I am a bit concerned if we have spoken too much and acted too much.
My fellow Koreans,
Our claim is based on a great, just cause from history. We have never made outrageous demands. Nor have we demanded that Japan make a new apology. We are just asking Japan to correct the wrongs that nullify even the insufficient apologies some Japanese have made. And we are simply calling on the country to recognize the truth about issues that have not been addressed so far and to take proper measures.
I firmly believe that justice will prevail in the end. I will handle this issue with conviction, with strategies and in a proper manner. I will never let you down.
I ask you to have faith in me and support me. Do not lose courage and self-confidence. Our calls will surely be answered by a just history.