Japanese and South Korean editorials on Takeshima: A comparison
Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 25, 2008
ONE POINT I often try to make here is that the Japanese media is not as biased in a nationalistic sense as some people claim. Bias, as with beauty, is in the (biased) eye of the beholder, but I think the tone of the Japanese print and broadcast media is in general rather mild.
“Compared to what?” some might ask, and that’s a valid question. In fact, that’s what this post is about.
New reader Chris (at least I think he is a new reader), contributed some comments over the past couple of days on this week’s Takeshima posts. Chris seems to be a reasonable fellow who expresses his sincere opinion in a positive way, which is always welcome. His exchange with another commenter started me thinking, and that’s a dangerous thing for an ampontan to do!
First, Chris said:
I know anything from a Korean source would be biased towards Korea. Same as with Japan I would imagine.
Poster Aceface replied:
The second largest paper in the country, Asahi, actually had an op-ed by the head of commentary department mentioning handing the island over to Korea in 2005.
To which Chris answered:
Perhaps I should have phrased my sentences a bit different. Most sources from a Korean would be biased as well as most sources from a Japanese would be biased. Every country has its bias when it comes to writing its own history.
Well, why don’t we find out!
The following are excerpts from and links to Japanese and South Korean newspaper editorials about the recent Takeshima contretemps.
Not all the Japanese editorials are in English. The Mainichi Shimbun has temporarily suspended its English website due to the WaiWai stupidities, and a few other newspapers don’t have English translations of their articles. Therefore, I’ve translated the juiciest parts.
Japanese-language newspaper links are as evanescent as the dew, so I usually don’t link to them. I’m making an exception in this case to allow people to correct the translations, if they think it’s necessary, or to allow people the chance to critique the parts I chose to translate.
The point of this is to present a general overview, so please do not write in to say, “Oh, that’s just the XXX newspaper, they’re XXX wing, you can’t take them seriously.” For that reason, I’m not going to identify the ideological orientation of the Japanese newspapers. (You’ll figure it out soon enough anyway.) I’m not familiar enough with the Korean newspapers to say.
Let’s start with Japan first.
Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 July
Teach the Truth—Takeshima Part of Japan
The Takeshima islets are an integral part of our nation’s territory historically and according to international law. This is the position the Japanese government has steadfastly maintained.
…the manual calls for teachers to refer to disagreement between Japan and South Korea over territorial claim to the Takeshima islets.
This shows a measure of a diplomatic consideration for South Korea. The South Korean government is strongly opposing Japan’s move, as demonstrated by its plan to temporarily recall South Korean Ambassador to Japan Kwon Chul Hyun. We hope that Seoul responds to the matter calmly.
The circumstances took an abrupt turn shortly before the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which stipulates the post-World War II territory of Japan, went into effect in 1952. Then South Korean President Syngman Rhee suddenly declared sovereignty over the waters around South Korea and drew a line in the Sea of Japan to claim the Takeshima islets as part of his nation’s territory. Since then, South Korea has unlawfully occupied the islets.
South Korea is a neighboring country with which Japan has to closely cooperate in scrapping North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and resolving the dispute over its abduction of Japanese.
However, what the Japanese should be taught in school–issues relating to their territory included–is a matter that can affect their sovereignty. Diplomatic consideration belongs in a different category from that covering an obligation to pass the history of a sovereign state and accurate facts about its territory onto upcoming generations….
Solving the territorial dispute over the Takeshima islets is a difficult task. For this reason, it is vital that the Japanese people correctly understand the issue and can state their case to the international community.
Asahi Shimbun, 16 July
For South Koreans, Takeshima is far more than just a territorial issue. It is a symbol of Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean people. The islands were incorporated into Japan’s Shimane Prefecture in 1905. That same year, Japan divested Korea of its diplomatic rights in prelude to the annexation of the Korean Peninsula.
“Tokto, our land” is a South Korean song taught to all children to inculcate patriotism. The issue of ownership is essential to South Korean nationalism.
The education ministry’s curriculum guidelines are revised every 10 years or so, along with the accompanying manual. 2008 was such a year.
Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party saw this as the perfect opportunity to insist that schools spend more time discussing the Takeshima issue, as well as the longstanding row with Russia over the Northern Territories.
In South Korea, the administration of President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated in February. Given the fact that Japan cannot do without South Korea’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea over the nuclear and abduction issues, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was careful not to get into a diplomatic fray with Seoul.
That explains Fukuda’s decision not to delve into the Takeshima issue when revisions to the official curriculum guidelines were released in March. As a trade-off, however, he had no choice but to allow the Takeshima issue to be mentioned in the manual. This illustrates Fukuda’s weak footing in his own party.
Lee has problems on the home front as well. South Koreans’ anger with their government has exploded with the resumption of U.S. beef imports. The Lee administration cannot afford to come across as spineless at this critical juncture.
Nevertheless, everybody should calm down.
The manual issue amounts to nothing more than a rehash of the Japanese government’s official stand on the Takeshima issue. In fact, existing textbooks from four publishers already contain passages on Takeshima. The great majority of Japanese citizens hope to maintain good bilateral ties. Tokyo should seize every opportunity to explain this fact clearly and patiently to Seoul.
We can appreciate South Korea’s anger. But that said, it is also a fact that the manual states objectively that South Korea and Japan have always been at odds over Takeshima’s ownership.
Both sides should present their arguments, agree to disagree, and try to resolve the dispute calmly. That is the only way to go.
The Japan Times, 17 July
(The Japan Times is an English-language newspaper unaffiliated with the vernacular dailies.)
Don’t Let Islets Issue Damage Ties
The government’s decision to mention the Takeshima islets, in the Sea of Japan, in a teaching manual has cast a pall over ties between Japan and South Korea, both of which claim sovereignty over the islets. South Korean reactions are strong and could touch off strong nationalistic sentiment in Japan….
The decision came at a bad time. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has seen his approval ratings plummet over U.S. beef imports and cannot afford to take a conciliatory stance toward Japan. Both Japan and South Korea should do their utmost to keep a lid on popular emotional outbursts.
During his Tokyo visit in April, Mr. Lee and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed to build a “more mature partnership” between their countries. The tiny islets should never be allowed to undermine bilateral ties, which are vital for mutual prosperity and stability in East Asia.
Mainichi Shimbun 15 July
Territorial Issues Need to be Considered Calmly
South Korea has strongly objected to the Japanese decision, and has taken such steps as temporarily recalling its ambassador. But at this point, we would like to see a calm response from the South Koreans….
We cannot forget that both Japan and South Korea should maintain strong ties to respond to North Korea. There will be no benefit whatsoever if problems incapable of resolution in a short time cause a reversal in Japanese-Korean relations…
Considering South Korean textbooks state that “Dokdo is our land”, it isn’t unnatural for Japanese textbooks to take up the Takeshima question from this perspective: “As historical fact and international law make clear, (it) is our land.”
Territorial issues easily inflame popular sentiment. This issue should be rationally and persistently discussed by both governments in a diplomatic setting. Repeatedly taking emotional stands will never lead to a resolution…
Nikkei Shimbun (Business and financial newspaper)
I couldn’t find their editorial, but did find this excerpt somewhere else:
“We hope the Japanese and South Korean governments strive to prevent conflict over this serious political problem. The intensification of Japanese-South Korean conflict will only make North Korea happy.”
Sankei Shimbun 15 July (Business and Financial Newspaper)
Clearly Teach that Takeshima is Japanese Territory
…It is not clearly written (in the instruction manual) that Takeshima is an integral part of Japanese territory, and that is highly unsatisfactory…
The territorial issue has a bearing on Japanese sovereignty. Including diplomatic considerations in the instruction manual, which describes how to teach the subjects, will be a source for future trouble in Japanese public education…We have a difficult time understanding Korean dissatisfaction.
Social studies classes must properly teach that Takeshima is without question, historically and legally Japanese territory—including the historical circumstances. That is what public education is all about.
The Nishinippon Shimbun 16 July
(This regional newspaper primarily covers Northern Kyushu. It is based in Fukuoka City in Kyushu and is the largest major newspaper closest to South Korea.)
Seeking Calm from Japan and South Korea
That Takeshima is an integral part of Japanese territory has long been the view of the Japanese government, and a view with which most Japanese people agree. In that sense, the content added to the teachers’ instruction manual merely reflects that view…To have the manual state there are differences with South Korea in claims over Takeshima is an objective fact. Few Japanese will object to the rationale of the inclusion that we are furthering (the students’) understanding of our land and territory…It is natural to objectively teach in classes the existence and circumstances of Takeshima, and it would be unnatural to deal with the situation by purposely avoiding the existence of Takeshima, which is on the map, after all.
The South Korean government and people have continued to strongly insist that Dokdo is South Korean land, and that no territorial issue exists regarding the island…(Recently) the South Korean government immediately objected to the instruction manual, and temporarily recalled their ambassador. National Assembly members flew on helicopters there to demonstrate that South Korea effectively controls (it).
But at this point, we want to say to South Korea: “Hold it.”
We want the South Korean government to calmly accept and explain to its people that the content of the manual is restrained, with consideration given to the South Korean view. While there are domestic political considerations, the opposition to another country and conflict between governments can fan nationalism between both people. It can only inflame anti-Japanese and anti-Korean sentiments.
Thus fissures will reappear in the Japan-Korean relationship, which had finally been repaired. Neither country should seek a deterioration of relations…We also hope Japan will calmly exert diplomatic influence.
That’s why it’s necessary for both sides to recognize the difference in claims, and to persistently continue rational discussions by verifying the historical facts.
Now for the South Korean editorials. The Korean Herald and Seoul Times websites are user-unfriendly, and I had trouble navigating them. That’s why they aren’t represented. If I missed some newspapers, let me know. These are in no special order. There are multiple editorials from some Korean newspapers and only one from the Japanese newspapers because that’s how the newspapers chose to do it.
The Korea Times 18 July
Change in Approach
Diplomatic rows between Korea and Japan have followed an almost fixed pattern in the past: Japan usually started them by provoking Korea over historical or territorial issues; Koreans flared up; Tokyo then backed off with an excuse or apology; and Seoul forgave and forgot ― until the next provocation. Upon the end of each episode, however, Japan savored what little progress had been obtained. It will likely be quite different this time…
Seoul may take whatever diplomatic retaliatory measure it thinks necessary, depending on the future development. It is questionable, however, whether the officials should compete to unveil the strong-arm tactics all at once.
What they should do instead is to orchestrate a comprehensive strategy to prepare for a drawn-out dispute first by dividing the roles of administrative and legislative branches, public and private sectors and central and provincial governments and then by combining it into a one, long-term plan.
The real war surrounding Dokdo has just begun in earnest.
Chosun Ilbo 18 July
For Each Provocation, a New Structure on Dokdo
Japanese politicians, from ruling and opposition parties alike, are uniting in their efforts to claim sovereignty over Korea’s Dokdo islets. As Japanese society shifts further to the right, politicians and the news media are also shifting in that direction, giving rise to this movement over the islets. And this movement is expected to continue for a long time. In other words, Japan will never voluntarily give up on its claim over Korea’s Dokdo.
In the end, we must stop being dragged around by Japan’s provocations, but start gathering various historical records evidencing Korea’s ownership of Dokdo to prove this according to international law. We must also step up our vigilance. If Japan continues to take provocative measures regarding Dokdo, we should also make it a point to increase the number of facilities we build there.
Dong-A Ilbo 14 July
Japan’s False Obsession With Dokdo
Historically and pragmatically, it is absurd for Japan to claim sovereignty to the islets. Responsibility and discretion lies entirely in the hands of Japan. It can choose to follow rationality and abandon its unreasonable greed for the island or scuttle its recovering relations with Korea.
…Isn’t it absurd to talk about “considerate approach” when Japan is talking about another country’s territory? No matter how Japan as a whole tries to disguise the truth, the truth is that Dokdo is Korean territory.
Fukuda promised a future-oriented new era in his April 20 meeting with President Lee. Less than three months have passed, and Japan is trying to stab its neighbor in the back! How can we trust this country and its prime minister? Senior figures in Japan have constantly announced Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo and have shattered relations between the two countries. Catering to the Japanese population, Japanese leaders have repeatedly made false arguments while turning on their ally.
Shame on Japan! If Tokyo insists on this absurdity, we have to fight back hard. And Japan shall be held solely responsible for the casualties from a harsh bilateral relationship.
JoongAng Ilbo 16 July
United on Dokdo
It is wrong to hit a person and then ask him to stay calm. It is wrong to patronize the person, saying that he hit him with an open hand instead of a closed fist, out of good will.
One feels enraged and helpless upon hearing the Japanese government’s and media’s outrageous claims that Japan owns the Dokdo Islets in the East Sea. Japan’s actions looks like those of a gang member who hits a passerby on the shoulder out of the blue and then through intimidation, tries to keep the person from responding.
…The Japanese government has upset Koreans’ otherwise peaceful sentiment and now it asks Koreans to be calm in response. This is a serious provocation.
…Japanese media outlets also reported that the Dokdo issue was addressed in the recent Korea-Japan summit meeting, even thought that is not true.
The Japanese government and media must be aware that the ownership of Dokdo is an issue of sovereignty, that it has nothing to do with any particular administration and that not one single Korean will offer concessions over the islets.
JoongAng Ilbo (#2) 15 July
Dokdo is ours
Claiming that Dokdo is Japan’s territory is one thing; teaching it to teenagers is another. The latter is tantamount to encouraging young people to dispute the ownership of Korea’s territory in the future when they grow up….
Japan says the section about Dokdo in the document was stated in an indirect way because it respects Korea’s stance. But this is nothing but a word game.
…If Japan had genuinely apologized for invading and colonizing its neighbors, the government would have refrained from mentioning Dokdo in its education guidebook.
This is why many maintain that Japan wears a smile on its face but will betray you behind your back, and that Japan is not qualified to become a leader in the region or on the international stage.
…Japan’s provocation is technically the same as a declaration of war for sovereignty over our territory. Dokdo is Korea’s territory, according to history, international law and geography.
…The Korean government needs to respond with determination but it should stay calm so that exchanges and cooperation in the private sector, such as economy and culture, are not disrupted.
The Hankyoreh 15 July
The right response to the latest Dokdo claim
We must, first of all, note that this move is a shameless distortion that ignores historical and substantial truth. Dokdo is territory proven to be Korean through authoritative historical sources and is under Korean control. But since 2001, the Japanese government has aided and abetted the distortions, and in 2005 it issued an official opinion regarding the textbook approval process, calling for clarity so that there is no mistaking that Dokdo is Japanese.
South Korea is of the view that this is a rejection of our proposal to “look straight at the past and open up the future,” and is moving to recall the ambassador to Tokyo and take measures that better assert Korean control over Dokdo. This would appear to be the unavoidable course of action.
However, it must be noted that the current situation was, in part, caused by the Lee Myung-bak administration’s flippant approach. He knew well enough how Japan has trampled on the goodwill of previous Korean administrations when they said they would not make historical issues diplomatic ones, and yet he bowed his head to Japan saying that he would “move to the future without raising questions about the past.” When it became apparent Japan was going to include its territorial claims on Dokdo, Lee’s administration got all flustered but was able to win nothing about the matter. It should take this as a lesson, realize that “unresolved issues of the past” are not issues of the past but of the present, and respond accordingly.
The Hankyoreh 16 July
More of Lee’s foreign policy failures
Japan is gradually increasing the intensity of its territorial claims on Dokdo, this while ignoring historical and substantial truth, and its behavior must not be tolerated. The Korean government is taking action in response to Japan’s provocation, by recalling Seoul’s ambassador and better asserting Korean control over the islets.
However, the action the government is now taking does give you the feeling it is making a big to-do to hide its own policy failures, given how its approach was completely different from previous Korean policy towards Japan.
The situation we have today originated in the (Lee) administration’s flippant and shallow thinking about relations with Japan, and international relations in general. It needs to reflect on its approach and give deep consideration to the interests of the Korean people and state and base foreign policy on that, because only by doing so will there be a future for Korean diplomacy.
That’s the crop. Additions and corrections welcome.
And as they say elsewhere: We report, you decide.