[Editorial] Yoon’s white flag on historical disputes with Japan backfires immediately

Posted on : 2023-03-29 17:10 KST Modified on : 2023-03-29 17:10 KST
Far from a gesture of good faith, Japan is ramping up the whitewashing of its colonial-era subjugation of Korea in newly approved textbooks
The Asia Peace & History Education Network holds a press conference in Seoul on March 28 in regard to a review of Japanese textbooks. (Yonhap)
The Asia Peace & History Education Network holds a press conference in Seoul on March 28 in regard to a review of Japanese textbooks. (Yonhap)

Japanese elementary school textbooks will explain in less detail the coercive nature of Japan’s colonial-era forced mobilization of Koreans, and will further the historically inaccurate claim that Dokdo is Japanese territory.

This is the result of President Yoon Suk-yeol’s “all-surrendering” diplomacy, in which South Korea moved to compensate the victims of forced mobilization domestically and expectantly wait for a gesture of good faith from Japan. This only reinforces the reality that if we give in to Japan first, Japan will not reciprocate graciously.

The problem is that this feels like it is only the beginning, not the end.

Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced on Tuesday the results of a review of elementary school textbooks to be used in 2024. The descriptions of victims of forced labor in the social studies textbooks are even shabbier than the editions reviewed in 2019.

The words “volunteering” was added to describe Korean youths who became soldiers, emphasizing that their “conscription” was voluntary, not forced. Baseless territorial claims calling Dokdo “Japanese territory” that is being “illegally occupied by South Korea” also appear in almost all the textbooks. Japan’s indoctrination of young students with these misleading claims casts a dark shadow over the future of South Korea-Japan relations.

In a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the South Korean government expressed “deep regret” and said that it “strongly protests” such acts, but these words ring hollow. Japan has distorted history textbooks since the past, and the South Korean government’s response has always been similar.

However, since Yoon rushed to exonerate Japan of its historical sins in hopes of gaining Tokyo’s favor, he is now in a difficult position to respond. The administration’s “solution” announced on March 6 directly contradicts the Supreme Court’s ruling and accepts Japan’s claim that forced mobilization was “routine labor mobilization, and nothing about it was illegal or coercive.”

Yoon has also publicly stated that “he sympathizes with Japan’s point of view” in response to Japan’s revision of its National Security Strategy, which claims Dokdo as Japan’s sovereign territory. The distortion of history in these textbooks is only made more painful because it has been brought about by the fact that Yoon gave Japan to claim its stakes on Dokdo, and then abandoned the principle of diplomacy to respond to Japan’s unjust actions.

This disheartening reality is far from the self-congratulatory claims of the “improvement” of bilateral relations brought around by the South Korea-Japan summit. It is likely that Japan will continue to demand unilateral concessions on issues regarding the “comfort women” system, the dumping of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, a 2018 incident in which a South Korean vessel allegedly radar locked onto a Japanese aircraft — and that South Korea will humiliatingly give in.

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