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Hither and Yon

Korea vs. Japan: 70 years after WWII, can we just move on? Apparently not

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
SEOUL — Maybe Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, should have kept his mouth shut.
No matter what he might have said on the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, he would be the target of intensive criticism. The fact is the Japanese are done with apologizing for World War II. They have said all they are going to say about it, and nobody accepts their apologies anyway.
What has to be accepted about Japan’s oft-repeated expressions of “remorse” is that’s all we’re likely to hear from the Japanese on this topic. Ditto the list of complaints that we keep asking about.
No, the Japanese are not seriously going to rewrite their textbooks to make themselves out to be monstrous, cruel imperialists. No, the Japanese are not going to accept full responsibility, much less offer more compensation, for the terrible mistreatment of about 200,000 young women, the majority of them Korean, forced to work in “comfort stations” as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers.
And no, the Japanese are not going to relinquish their claim to those two rocky islets known as Dokdo to the Koreans and Takeshima to the Japanese.
Actually, settlement of the Dokdo/Takeshima issue should be easy. All the Japanese have to say is, since the Koreans are there anyway, and since they mean so much to Korea, the Koreans can have them. Sound simple? Sure, except that we all know the Japanese will never make such a concession.
Acceptance of the reality that Japan is not going to budge leads to other realities that are more difficult for the Americans and others to grasp.
The overriding reality is that, in the event of a second Korean War, South Korea and Japan could not be allies. Somehow I do not think Koreans would take to the sight of Japanese troops on the Korean Peninsula fighting other Koreans, even North Koreans. Japan was a tremendous rear base area in the Korean War. The Americans and others would want to use Japan for that purpose again, but it is beyond imagination to think of Japan together with South Koreans in combat with the North Koreans.
Related: South Koreans evacuated, troops on high alert after North Korean rocket attack, Aug. 20, 2015
But what is Abe thinking when he indicates that Japanese forces might conceivably fight overseas, that is, if article nine of Japan’s no-war constitution were “revised” as he has intimated he would like to do? Where does Abe think the Japanese might strike first? We would be likely to see small steps toward Japanese involvement in foreign wars.
Japanese have participated in a search-and-rescue mission with Philippine forces near Palawan, the long island off in the southwestern Philippines that is the springboard for Philippine operations in the South China Sea, including the Spratlys. Might the Japanese take that kind of seemingly harmless mission a giant step further and coordinate on opposing the Chinese grip on newly built bases in the Spratlys? What exactly might the Japanese do ― besides a few reconnaissance missions?
These small steps have repercussions closer to Japan. Japanese forces are tenaciously holding on to the Senkaku Islands, known to the Chinese as Diaoyu, in the East China Sea. The Japanese Coast Guard chases away Chinese fishing boats, and Japanese warplanes scramble in response to Chinese missions over the Senkakus. It is possible to imagine shooting bursting out there. Japan would not have to say it was sending forces overseas to defend a foreign land.
The Japanese say the Senkakus have been part of Japan since the Sino-Japanese war ended with Japan taking over Taiwan in 1895.
Which brings us again to the question of a Korean-Japanese alliance. If there is one conflict in which South Korea cannot afford to get involved, it is the Senkakus/Diaoyu. No way is South Korea going to oppose China in the East China Sea while facing China in the Yellow Sea and hoping the Chinese will finally do the right thing and persuade North Korea to lay off, to stop the rhetorical threats ― even give up its nuclear weapons program.
For that matter, it is hard to imagine the Koreans allying with Japan anywhere else in view of the overriding importance of Chinese pressure on the North Koreans. Forget about the Koreans fighting with Philippine forces to contest China’s grip on the Spratlys. The Japanese would probably not be too happy about doing anything militarily against China either, but it is not out of the question while China claims most of the South China Sea as its historic right. As for Korea siding with Japan and the Philippines in those waters, that is not going to happen.
Abe in his double-talk hinted at these realities. Judging from the way the Americans and British, among others, praised him for whatever he said, we can only presume that they are self-delusional in considering Japan as the missing link in a great trilateral alliance.
As Abe’s remarks indicated and the response in Korea made still clearer, there can be no such alliance as the American dream. The legacy of war and colonialism is too deep to fantasize anything but the existing standoff as the “permanent” solution ― at least until shots are fired.

Donald Kirk has been covering war and peace in Asia for decades. He is at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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