2015 Joint Statement by Korean, Japanese and International Scholars: For East Asia's "Freedom from the Past"

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Marcus Noland (PIIE)
August 20, 2015 7:00 AM

With the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War, history is upon us. Yesterday, we parsed the Abe speech, arguing that it sought to assert a new historical narrative for Japan. In an earlier post, we reproduced and endorsed an “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan.” The letter emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in March 2015 and addressed a very particular problem made manifest in the Abe speech: the politicization of the discipline of history in Japan.

Here, we reproduce and endorse a much broader statement on the history issue that once again gets it exactly right; background on the effort can be found at Hankyoreh but it involved organizational efforts in both Korea and Japan. While once again revisiting a very particular historical misrepresentation—in this case the legality of the Japanese annexation of Korea—the statement then goes on to locate the history debates in a much wider context.

Several things are striking—and refreshing—about the letter. First, the letter underscores that historical controversies can be manipulated all around. (One thing we have always found puzzling is the way that international history is fair game, but the depredations that governments have wrought on their own people are exempt.) Second, the letter underscores that democracy itself is a precondition for writing honest history, a point liberals such as Karl Popper made over half a century ago. While democracy produces demagogues, independence from official narratives is crucial for pushing the historical enterprise along.

Finally, the statement grapples with perhaps the most important issue of all: how to combine an honest assessment of history with the capacity to forget and move on. At some point, it is within human agency to forge a new history; looking backward can both help and hinder that enterprise.

The Statement

2015 is a deeply significant commemorative year in East Asian history. We Korean, Japanese, and international scholars are writing this to express the shared concerns and hopes of the people of East Asia and the world.

In 2010, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea, more than 1000 Korean and Japanese scholars collectively issued a joint statement declaring that the annexation process was unjust and wrongful, and that the Annexation Treaty itself was also unjust and wrongful. Moreover, they were in agreement that the Korean interpretation of the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea, that the Annexation Treaty was null and void from the beginning, should be accepted as the mutual interpretation. Some 400 Chinese historians also announced their support for the Joint Statement. In response, the Japanese government issued an official statement by Prime Minister Kan Naoto on August 10, 2010, acknowledging that the 1910 annexation of Korea was forced against the will of the Korean people.

Since that time, five years have passed. During that period, we have adopted the motto "Promise of 2010, Hope for 2015" while monitoring recent trends in the current situation. Unfortunately, within Japan today we are witnessing movement that runs increasingly counter to the sentiments of 2010. To promote a certain political agenda, right-wing politicians in Japan have regenerated historical myths already refuted by historians, spreading these myths through certain like-minded scholars and conservative media outlets. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is publicly stating that he will uphold both the Kono and Murayama Statements, yet within his government and the ruling party attempts to negate these expressions are unceasing. Moreover, hate speech on the streets is on the rise. This reverse course of history is gaining momentum.

At the same time, the criticisms of Japan by neighboring countries have not been without their own issues. Anti-Japanese sentiments have risen to unprecedented heights; the flames of nationalism are being fanned while democratization movements are being pushed to the side, and there are some who appear to be maneuvering for domestic political gain.

As we witness this deteriorating situation, we cannot fall into despair nor stay silent. Historians along with other scholars have a responsibility to attest to historical truths, challenge distortions and work to prevent the misuse of history for political ends. There has never been a time when this intellectual responsibility is more critical than today. We cannot ignore our unending responsibility to address these reversals in the course of history.

For 80 years, East Asia witnessed a series of wars beginning with the first Sino-Japanese War in 1894 and lasting until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. During the first 50 years, Japan pursued the invasions of Korea, China, and Southeast Asia, which culminated in the Pacific War (World War II). Following this, enveloped by the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, East Asia witnessed another 30 years of war including the Chinese civil war, the Indochina War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Cold War finally ended in 1991, some 15 years later. A cease-fire agreement concluded the Korean War, yet tensions continue to this day. Conflicts among countries in East Asia have not come to an end. With regards to the past 120 years of conflicts and tensions in East Asia, we have no choice but to reflect deeply in our hearts and learn from this history with certainty, in order to heal the damage and suffering inflicted during that period and strive toward reconciliation.

Recently, the state of confrontation in East Asia has been intensifying as China, with its status as an economic superpower and its military strength, faces off against Japanese Prime Minister Abe's "Proactive Contribution to Peace" initiative in alliance with the Obama administration's "Asian Rebalancing" strategy. Tensions continue to mount throughout East Asia, and it would not be surprising to see military clashes in the South China Sea, or the area around the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands in the East China Sea, or along the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula. After having suffered through 120-some years of war and tension, the citizens of East Asia yet again face the serious threat of military conflict, which will preclude their ability to become respected members of global civil society. If we are not able to reposition these circumstances toward a path of peace, we East Asians have to fundamentally question ourselves as to whether we are truly civil beings at our core.

Under the framework established by the San Francisco Peace Treaty (1951) in response to the Cold War, Korea and Japan lost the opportunity to pursue responsibility for Japan's colonization of Korea. Japanese leaders have made efforts, starting from the 1995 Murayama Statement, to express deep regret for colonial rule. Lately, though, the Abe administration has been making every effort to reverse these developments with the newly strengthened U.S.-Japan strategic alliance to counter China. However, these efforts will prove fruitless.

From a historical perspective, East Asia now stands at the dawn a new history of civilization to create its own future, finally emerging from the long tunnel of 150 years of westernization and overcoming the ideological conflicts of the 20th century. Having achieved advanced industrialization based on market economics in the latter half of the 20th century, the region is now home to some 900 million people in the middle class and about 1.1 billion "netizens" connected by the Internet. Within certain East Asian countries, civil society and democracy are flourishing. Now, China and the ASEAN nations are progressing on their own courses. East Asia is on the verge of birthing a new era marked by civil society and democracy.

Just as tens or even hundreds of billions of droplets of water come together to form an ocean, now billions of people in East Asia have joined the middle class and also become netizens, coming together to interact and intermingle. Eyes previously focused on the West now look to their neighbors, and as economic cooperation intensifies people are embracing one another's cultures, such that a "Civil Asia" or "Peoples Asia" is emerging. What we mean by "civil" is "citizens," "civilian control," and "new civilization." These citizens must be free from distorted historical interpretations and from the propaganda churned out by hostile nationalism. They must gain relative independence from the state and also freedom from past history, expanding and deepening the inter-dependence among fellow citizens within their own country and beyond. Freedom never comes free of cost.

As democracy advances, the intrinsic conditions to overcome historical issues develop. In fact, the so-called "comfort women" issue coming to the forefront of our recent attention was made possible by South Korea's earlier democracy movement. We believe that resolving the "comfort women" issue is a central focus among East Asians and a touchstone for East Asian democracy. Like thunder erupting in the skies of history, intellectuals from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Korea among others have come together in recent months to publish joint statements one after the other calling for resolution of the "comfort women" issue, and we are very pleased to join hands in this effort.

We call upon the United States to promote renewed democracy in East Asia and to support its potential, rather than increasing the possibility of another war in East Asia. Therefore, we believe that the United States "rebalancing" policy should be motivated by peaceful industries and civil society, not the military-industrial complex. It should be a way to overcome the past and to disarm, not a further effort to preserve the past and to expand militarization. The policy should not seek to exclude China and North Korea; rather, it should be an inclusive policy that engages those countries through peaceful cooperation.

Prime Minister Abe has announced that he will issue a new statement to commemorate this year's 70th anniversary of end of the Pacific War. His statement must follow in the footsteps of the Kono Statement, the Murayama Statement, the Kan Statement, and other Japanese government history-related statements, not only reaffirming their understanding of history but also taking things one step further. Abe must furthermore admit that Japan's history of colonization inflicted tremendous pain and damage to neighboring countries, while also expressing sincere regrets and apologies on behalf of Japanese people. We hope that resolution of the "comfort women" issue will be addressed immediately, and that the truth behind forced labor in coal mines under colonization is clearly acknowledged. There is no good colonialism. There is no good war. When we discuss the future, we must not overlook our mistakes of the past. Instead, we must settle accounts. By all means, we expect Prime Minister Abe to issue a statement that contributes to historical reconciliation.

Conflicts based on past history can lead to clashing nationalisms, and if territorial disputes and security fears continue to escalate, democracy will retreat. Regression to the past can result in war, which reverses the course of history. In this instance, we must recognize that the past has taken the present hostage and predetermined the future. We must be able to arrive at a rational conclusion to historical disputes on past East Asian history. Otherwise, tensions and conflict will escalate and darken our future. Attempting to move into the future while ignoring this reversal in the course of history and overlooking the issues of the past is in fact a conspiracy to preserve the past and control the future. We have to openly admit what happened in the past, apologize for it, and be pardoned in order to achieve reconciliation. We must free the present from the past. An East Asian "Freedom from the Past" in which the future is unburdened by the history will open the door to a bright era of a "Civil Asia."

July 29 2015

Proposal Committee:

Korea (Order in Korean alphabet)

Kang Man-Kil(Koryo University, Professor Emeritus) Kho Eun(poet)

Kim Kyong-Hee(Jisiksan'eupsa Publishers, President)

Kim Yong-Ho(Former President, The Yuhan University)

Kim Yong-Deok(Seoul National University)

Kim Jin-Hyun (President, The World Peace Forum)

Kim Chang-Rok (Kyongbuk National University, Professor)

Nam Si-Uk (Former Chief Editor, The Dong-A Ilbo)

Baek Nak-Cheong (Seoul National University, Professor Emeritus)

Song Hwi-Young (Chief Editor, The Chosun Ilbo)

Shin Yong-Ha (Seoul National University, Professor Emeritus)

Yun Dae-won(Kyujanggak Archives, SNU)

Lee Si-Jae (Catholic University, Professor)

Lee Jang-Hui(Korean Foreign Language University, Professor Emeritus)

Yi Tae-Jin(Seoul National University, Professor Emeritus)

Chang Wan-Ik(Lawyer) Chung Young-Mu (The Hankyorae, President)

Chi Yik-Pyo(Lawyer) Choe Won-Sik (Inha University, Professor Emeritus)

Choe Bong-Tae (Lawyer) Hwang Ho-Taek(Chief Editor, The Dong-A Ilbo)

Japan (Order in Japanese alphabet)

Arai Shinichi(Tsugatai University, Professor Emeritus)

Okamot Atsusi(Iwanami Shoten Publishers, President)

Otagawa Ko (Former Editorship member, The Asahi Newspaper)

Ussumi Aiko(Waseda University, Professor)

Kasuya Kenichi(Hitotsubashi University, Professor Emeritus)

Takajaki Soji(Tsutajuku Universiy, Professor Emeritus)

Nakatsuka Akira (Nara Women University, Professor Emeritus)

Mizuno Naoki(Kyoto University, Professor Emeritus)

Miyajima Hiroshi(Seonggyunkwan University, Professor of Special Responsibility)

Yamata Shyoji(Rikkyo University, Professor Emeritus)

Wada Haruki(Tokyo University, Professor Emeritus)

International Supporters (America & etc., Order in English Alphabet)

Alexis Dudden (University of Connecticut, Professor)

Bruce Cumings (University of Chicago, Professor)

Charles Armstrong (Columbia University, Professor)

Herbert Bix (Binghamton University, Professor)

Franziska Serphim (Boston College, Professor)

Gavan McCormack (Australia National University, Professor)

Jeff Kingston (Temple University of Japan, Professor)

Kerry Smith (Brown University, Professor)

Laura Hein (Northwestern University, Professor)

Mark Selden (Cornell University, Professor)

Patrick Manning (University of Pittsburgh, Professor)

Peter Kuznick (American University, Professor)

Prasenjit Duara (National University of Singapore, Professor)

Tessa Morris-Suzuki (Australia National University, Professor)

Noam Chomsky (MIT)

Youngjung Jay Kim (Columbia University).

Simon Chun (Harvard University)

Ok Lim (Harvard University)

HeeKyoung Chun (Georgia Southern Univ.)

Samuel D Shinn (The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church)

Byung Chull Song (Harmonious Chapel at Old Dominion Univ. Minister)

Hojun Chang (CKA Reverend of Storrs Korean Church at Uconn)

International Supporters (Europe)

Raji C. Steineck (University of Zuerich, Professor, GJF President)

Wolfgang Seitert (Heidelberg University, Professor Emeritus, GJF)

Trede Menanie (Heidelberg University, Professor, GJF)

Klaus Voellmer (LMU Munich University, Professor, GJF)

Andrea Germer (Kyushu University, Professor, GJF)

You Jae Lee (University of Tuebingen, Professor, AKSE)

Unsuk Han (University of Tuebingen, Professor, AKSE)

Sungju Park-Kang (University of Tuebingen, Professor, AKSE)

Vladimir Tikohnov (University of Oslo, Professor, AKSE)

James Foley (University of Shefield, Professor, BAKS)

Mark Morris (Trinity College, Cambridge University, Professor, BAKS)

Michael Shin (Robinson College, Cambridge University,Professor, BAKS)

Jean Michel Fuster MD Rhumatology)

Paul Schneiss (Evangelical Mission in Solidarity)

Jin-heon Jung (Max Planck Institute)

GJF (Gesellschaft Für Japanforshung, 독일어지역일본학회)

AKSE (Association of Korean Studies in Europe, 유럽한국학회)

BAKS (British Association of Korean Studies, 영국한국학회)

Comments

Liars N. Fools

An excellent statement that correctly ascribes responsibility for the state of affairs on the interpretation of history issue. I think it especially important to refer to the American share of the responsibility for the current state of affairs. It would seem that the Obama administration focus on China, and its concomitant unwillingness to take Abe to task on the unhelpfulness of revisionism, constitute elements of the issue. I note the list contains Bix, Cummings, and Chomsky, and believe it would be better if the letter eventually gets other American-based scholars that are more at odds politically with these particular scholars.

Andrew Salmon

Congratulations to these intellectuals for stepping forward to do the work diplomats should be able have done long ago. Some comments: What model of benchmark for colonial apologies are you referencing, if any? As an Englishman resident in Seoul, it strikes me that Japan has apologized to Korea far more and more fulsomely than any European colonial power has to its former subjects. A sitting Korean president once told me and one of my colleagues that the best way forward for Japan-Korean relations would be a Willi Brandt style knee-fall. I suggest that this displays an ignorance of what Brandt was apologizing for - ie the genocide of the Jewish people, and the Nazi attempt to eradicate the entire Polish state (not to mention the physical eradication of the city of Warsaw which did, indeed, take place in 1944). While Japanese colonization of Korea was harsh in many aspects, it never approached the level of crimes of the Nazis in central and eastern Europe. However, it is my observation that many in South Korea today equate Japanese colonization with Nazi genocide. Moreover, what happened to/in Korea and in China (and also in Southeast Asia) were different things: ie a creeping colonization and all-out invasion/war. From my reading of the history of the Pacific War, the worst Japanese atrocities (that we have confirmed records of; alas the history of the comfort women remains opaque in terms of numbers, main actors and even recruitment methods) were committed under wartime conditions in China - biological warfare experiments; the "three-alls" counterinsurgency tactic; not to mention mass murder of civilians and mass destruction - rather than under colonial administration in Korea. With respect.

Add new comment