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Speaker examines Korean-Japanese relations

| Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Jae Woong Lee, deputy consul general for the Republic of Korea, spoke on Korean-Japanese relations Monday night in a lecture sponsored by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

According to Lee, Japan and Korea countries have shared — and continue to share — a long and complicated history. Their geological position and common culture should create favorable conditions for diplomatic relations, Lee said, yet Korean-Japanese relations continue to be strained.

Lee said ancient Japanese and Korean art display “striking similarities,” though ancient Japanese art is usually sculpted from wood and Korean sculptors preferred to use a bronze medium.

“This is evidence of the close interactions and close relationship between Korea and Japan more than 1,000 years ago,” Lee said. “We like to boast that Korean ancient history moved to Japan and had them give birth to their own Japanese culture.”

Though the countries share a related history, Lee said tensions remain in the current Japanese-Korean relations, yet have not kept the countries from working together on prominent issues.

“There is a prolonged, unstable relationship from various factors. Even though Korea and Japan have a close history, there are still problems,” he said.

These problems stem from the way the Japanese government portrays this shared history, Lee said.

Lee said the Korean people are worried the Japanese are promoting a type of revisionist history, through endorsing textbooks that incorrectly portray the invasion of Korean lands, and by authorizing such books, the Japanese government is refusing to depict past wrongs.

“This is just one of the main headaches, one of the stumbling blocks over which there is a divide between Japan and Korea,” Lee said.

Many Koreans are offended by Japanese politicians’ visits to to Yasukuni Shrine, Lee said.

“This is just one of the shrines that Japan has. But this specific shrine, they have the names of the war criminals … ” Lee said. “Politicians of Japan go to this shrine, giving a certain impression to Koreans that they do not truly regret their past wrongs against the people in the region.”

Japanese-Korean relations were previously strained by the issue of “comfort women.” The term refers to the practice in countries occupied by Japanese rule, including Korea, in which young women were taken from their homes and taken to “comfort stations,” where they were forced into sexual slavery.

Lee said Korea and Japan reached a tentative agreement in December to resolve the dispute over this issue, and this agreement represents a large success for the diplomatic relationship between the two countries.

“Japan is finally accepting more responsibility for this issue and they agreed to provide us compensation. The Japanese government clearly said ‘sorry’ to Korea,” Lee said.

Lee said Japanese-Korean relations can only continue to prosper if both countries continue to be sensitive to and aware of past events.

“They have to acknowledge the correct history,” Lee said. “There is no compromise on that.”

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