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Korea and Japan: Too close to be Forever Friends or Forever Enemies

Throughout East Asian history, Japan has worked hard to gain its power over the Asian continent for centuries. Granted, East Asian history has spanned thousands of years, with power shifts between many different parties. However, the last villain has been Japan. During World War II, Japan forced many women into sexual slavery, including those from Choson (the last dynasty in the Korean peninsula), China, Russia, Mongolia, and even Europeans like the Dutch, to fund its imperialist military. Japan has taken many artifacts from various cultures it invaded during this time as well.

Due to its proximity and the strategic placement of Korea as a peninsula to the great Asian continent, Japan often sought to invade Asia through Korea. It seems that whenever Japanese governments needed to reorganize themselves and repress dissent, they’d use Korea as a tactic, engaging in war. However, ultimately, Japan has maintained its “victimhood,” refusing to accept that they were defeated in the last war, and maintaining their “innocence” in all matters, even though Japanese citizens that participated in the war had repeatedly revealed the truth of the sexual slavery Japanese government forced on the women of its colonized empire.

A few weeks ago, a Harvard professor and a Mitsubishi scholar John Mark Ramseyer argued that “comfort women” were actually contracted prostitutes rather than sex slaves. It brought outrage amongst the academic community. To add to his lack of credible assertion is the absolute lack of evidence to support his assertion. For example, if these sex slaves were actually contracted prostitutes with the government, where were the documents? He had none.

Yet Japan is a major player in East Asian politics, and they are also heavily invested in the economy of ASEAN countries. Korea and Japan are currently allies and maintain an amicable international relationship. For example, in 2011 Japan was devastated by a massive earthquake, and South Koreans collected funds and sent it over to Japan.

At the time, the Japanese media said, “We don’t need help from a lesser country,” infuriating the Koreans who vowed never to help Japan again.

However, in 2021, as Japan seeks to get the Olympics moving, Korea is one of the biggest walls against Japan. South Korea questions the safety of holding Olympics in a country that is currently storing a large amount of radioactive waste (Fukushima) as well as during the Pandemic. It seems many countries agree with South Korea.

Recently, the Japanese government has thanked South Korea for its kind donations during 2011, which they rejected 10 years ago. It is a political ploy to get South Korea to loosen up on its opposition to Japan holding the Olympics this year.

Korea and Japan can never be fully friends, and they can never be fully enemies. They’re too close to each other and hold a lot of emotions against each other. However, South Korea might wise up to Japan’s behaviors and learn to play against Japan’s passive-aggressive tendencies and play frenemy just as well, instead of continuing to reach out like a friend and getting used up every time until it gets too emotionally angry to be a “friend.”

This dynamic will probably go for a very long time, and because of its roots in history, it is doubtful as to whether it will ever go away.

Coree ILBO copyright (c) 2013-2021, All rights reserved.

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