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South Korea’s Roh Moo-Hyun: What Japan Should Learn From Europe

When will Japan apologize to Korea and Asia for its WWII war crimes?

April 7, 2005

When will Japan apologize to Korea and Asia for its WWII war crimes?

Throughout Asia, there is quite a bit of upheaval about Japan’s failure to own up to its legacy of World War II — as yet another controversy brews over a new Japanese history schoolbook. In this Globalist Document, South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun argues that it is time for Japan to do what Germany did to mend its troubled relations with France decades ago — apologize.

South Korea and Japan share the same destiny in working together to open the age of Northeast Asia. Unless we pursue the path toward the consolidation of peace and common prosperity through mutual cooperation, our two countries cannot guarantee the safety and happiness of our citizens.

Progress in legal and political terms alone will not guarantee the future of the two countries. With only that, we cannot say that we did all we ought to.

More than that, it is necessary to exert efforts for substantial reconciliation and cooperation.

We should be born again as a genuine neighbor by bringing down, with truth and sincerity, the mental wall blocking the two peoples.

France handed down stern judgment against its citizens involved in anti-state activities [collaborators; The Editors], but joined with Germany in a magnanimous manner to create the European Union.

Last year, French President Chirac extended the first invitation ever to the German Chancellor to the ceremony celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landing and said that the French people welcomed him as a friend.

Like the French, our people aspire to be a magnanimous neighbor with Japan. Thus far, our Government has been restrained not to incite wrath and hatred among the people and has been making a positive effort to promote reconciliation and cooperation. In fact, I think that our people have been acting discreetly with restraint and reason.

However, the problem cannot be solved by our efforts alone.

To further develop relations between Japan and South Korea, sincere efforts are needed on the part of the government and people of Japan.

They need to discover the truth about their past, reflect on it and make a genuine apology as well as reparations if need be — and then reconcile. This is the universal process for settling historic problems in all other parts of the world.

I fully understand the indignation of Japan stemming from its citizens being kidnapped by North Koreans. But at the same time, I would like to ask Japan to reflect on itself as well.

I hope that Japan understands the indignation of the Korean people who suffered pain countless times because of Japan exploiting Korean draftees and “comfort women” during the 36 years of its imperial rule.

Once again, I appeal to the conscience of Japan. I hope that Japan, based on its genuine self-reflection, will take the initiative in removing the deep-seated emotional hurdle between the two neighbors — and heal the scar.

The Japan that prides itself as an advanced nation can further project itself as a conscientious nation as well. Otherwise, it will not be able to get out of the yoke of the past.

In the same light, however strong it may become in the economy and military preparedness, it will be difficult for Japan to earn the trust of its neighbors and become a leading nation in the international community.

Germany did all it could do. As a result, it is treated very well. The Germans delved into the past on their own, made an apology and reparations — and through their decisive moral action, they were able to emerge as the leader of integrated Europe.

Editor’s note: This essay is excerpted from President Roh Moo-hyun's address at the Ceremony for the 86th March First Independence Movement Day, on March 1, 2005.