Age: 14, Grade: 9
School Name: Hunter College High School, New York, NY
Educator: Kasumi Parker
The Impact of Japanese Colonial Rule on Current Bilateralism between the Republic of Korea and Japan.
When the key phrase “trade war” is searched on Google, the top results refer to the America-China trade war. The clash between the two of the largest global economies is no small matter, but when examined closely, the American-China trade war is not the only trade war happening in the world. At the moment, a trade war between the Republic of Korea and Japan, two of the United States’ closest Asian allies, is beginning to attract attention from around the world. But unlike the America-China trade war, this trade war stands as the culmination of the emotions and griefs of almost a century.
On August 28, 2019, Japan removed the Republic of Korea from their “white-list” concerning trade and tightened restrictions on raw materials needed by the tech industry. South Korea’s market today is dominated by international tech giants such as Samsung and LG. Many raw materials used to build technological products, more notably, smart phone, for these companies, are exported from Japan. Tightening restrictions on the export of key items puts South Korean companies in a risk-prone position, where they must find alternatives to source these raw materials quickly. Following this aggressive gesture, South Korean president Moon Jae-In attempted to contact Japan with an invitation to converse on national television, but was subsequently met with silence on the other end. Following this encounter he decided to end an intelligence-sharing pact between the two countries. Japanese beer, clothes, cosmetics, and cars sales also plummeted due to voluntary boycotts by Korean consumers. Massive protests and demonstrations have been going on at a nationwide scale in Korea, with two elderly men in their 70s to reportedly have died by burning themselves in front of the Japanese embassy.
But why is such a conflict occurring, all of a sudden? The reason lies in the Korean court ruling that Japanese companies are guilty of charges originating from the Japanese colonization period, when Japan occupied Korea during World War II. Starting in 1910 and ending in 1945, no one can argue that this was no easy time to be a Korean. Following the colonization of many overseas territories including Korea, the Japanese government created the concept of ‘We An Boo’, whose literal translation is comfort women. This term ‘comfort women’ is intentionally misleading, and should properly translated as ‘sex slaves’. Report by UN Economic and Social Council, Commission of Human Rights in 1998 coined the term, ‘Japanese Military Sexual Slavery’. These Korean female victims were involuntarily taken from their homeland by Japanese soldiers and forced into slavery in military brothels. Young girls and women were given up by unwilling families for a variety of reasons. According to Carmen M. Argibay, deception was one of the many tactics used by Japanese soldiers, where Koreans were told that they would be given jobs to serve as nurses, maids, or typists with a salary to support their families. This downgrades the common Japanese assertion that the occupation as a sex slave was done under the person’s consent. Other times, these people were purchased from their debt-bonded families. Finally, there was the use of force. According to Carmen M. Argibay; “Survivors who gave testimony before The Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery stated that they were enslaved through abduction in the Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Korea, China, Taiwan and Indonesia. In most of these cases, the women witnessed the Japanese army or its recruiters murder family members who tried to defend the women from being taken.” Village heads were also ordered to recruit girls, given that they did not want the destruction of the village, or its people. Although it is hard to imagine, tens of thousands of girls were drafted as comfort women. Chong Ok-Soon was one of the young Korean girls drafted as a comfort woman. She narrates how she had to serve up to 40 soldiers a day. She also speaks of a young Korean girl that had contracted a venereal disease due to being raped so often at her military brothel. She infected up 50 soldiers, and in an attempt to “sterilize” her, had a hot iron bar held up to her genitals. Kum Ju-Hwang states that she had to have most of her intestines removed because they were infected so many times from the daily rape that occurred. Although these are very powerful women trying to speak out, the majority of them are now dead, and only few survive at this point, to tell their story like Chong Ok-Soon and Kum Ju-Hwang.
While women were used as comfort women, men were forced to work as laborers for Japanese factories. In October of 2019, the Supreme Court of Korea ordered Nippon Steel to compensate for Korean workers by paying Lee Chun-shik and three other families approximately $89,000 each. A similar ruling was given to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Lower courts are also dealing with dozens of cases regarding 70 Japanese companies such as Toshiba, Nissan, and Panasonic. Although Japan paid the Korean government back in the 1965 $300 million in aid, and $200 million in loans (which was later repaid), none of the money actually reached the ones who had suffered, because the companies themselves did not make payments directly to the forced laborers, and it was rather a dealing between the two governments. Korean Supreme court ruling on August 28, 2019 involving 300 million aid does not rule out the civil right to sue the responsible entities for wrong-doing, and the Japanese companies that benefited from illegal labor of Koreans are obligated to pay for damages. It should be noted that this is a civil lawsuit between Japanese companies and a group of Korean citizens, and does not involve the Japanese government, who is both interfering and blocking the proceeding of the ruling.
One of the biggest reasons as to why this argument has been so prominent between the two countries over the years, is the misinformation of the younger generation of the Japanese people. In a New York Times article, it states that the outlawing of the Korean language in all forms (including writing and speaking) was distorted in government issued textbooks as “education in the Japanese language” and that the last Korean king “resigned”, rather than being imprisoned in his own palace by Japanese soldiers. By using these distorted textbooks, young Japanese simply begin to think of Korean claims to be fabricated, when in truth, their government tries to hide their violent and inhumane past. If German textbooks were to talk of the Holocaust in a way that tried to distort facts, the neighboring countries would immidiately object and governments would condemn this. The whole world would rise to the defense of the Jewish people that suffered during these times. However, to this day, Japan is a much more influential country than South Korea, and although these wrongdoings by the Japanese government have been condemned by South Korea’s government, it simply does not have the same effect as it might have in the case of European nations.
In the common Japanese counterargument, they say that they have apologized for wartime atrocities. This contention is very much true. Prime Minister Junchiro Koizumi made repeated apologies to the Asian nations that suffered during the colonization period, but these apologies have been rebuked by public acts of rebuttal. Current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself sent a gift to Yasukuni Shrine following his apology. Yasukuni Shrine serves as a monument to the dead bodies of convicted war criminals that served during World War II (when Korea was a colony of Japan). When the German government became aware of Richard Hanning, a Nazi guard that served at Aushwitz, despite being 94 years of age and not directly related to the massacre of the Jewish people, they immidiately put him on trial. The sensitivity of such matters should be most well respected, by the country who committed such atrocities. Japan being the ones holding sole responsibility, not only disregards that such atrocities happened, but the leader chooses to send gifts to a shrine that serves as a monument to these convicted wartime criminals. This would be comparable to Angela Merkel praising Hitler for his deeds and paying respects to Auschwitz. Even with these apologies, it is clear that despicable gestures like these downgrade these apologies.
Japan is not a bad country, and neither are the majority of civilians. Although they may present disagreements towards this case, the real ones to blame are at the top of the Japanese government. Shinzo Abe’s reluctance to fully commit to an apology regarding wartime crimes is what causes such anger to build up in the heart of Korean citizens (both north and south). It has come a time, where such wrongdoings must come to an end. The misinformation of the new generation is only serving to fuel the flames, and the truth must come out, once and for all. A formal apology, one without public rebuttals from the government is all that is necessary. The facts are non negotiable, whether the government chooses to distort them or not. For Japan to continuously disregard and ignore facts without consequences, it is proving to the world that slavery is and can be exused. The world needs to know what is going on between these two countries, for it is more than just a simple trade war, but everything that freedom stands for.