The anti-Japanese diplomacy, which set President Park Geun-hye off her proper path, has lead Korea into a blind alley and the world is even beginning to hear voices of opposition from within the country. It’s not clear in which direction Korea can escape, as it maneuvers between the Chinese hegemony, threats from North Korea, and anti-Japanese sentiments. Korea must strive for true modernization, if it wishes to avoid once again becoming a vassal state to a major power.
- They routinely blame others in international disputes.
- International law and manners are useless in dealing with them.
- Korea’s policy of self-preservation means that the country panders to major powers without any conviction.
Editorials such as Yukichi Fukuzawa’s “Datsu-A Ron (Leaving Asia)” noted these as the Joseon’s (the Korean Peninsula’s) problems in the Meiji period. Fukuzawa tried to modernize Joseon and other neighboring countries while threats from Western powers loomed. At the time, they were still vassal states of the Qing Dynasty. Today, these aspects of the national character of the Korean Peninsula, which Fukuzawa described 120 years ago, have not changed much.
Korea’s disregard for international rule has become an ingrained habit. From the illegal occupation of Takeshima, the lies about comfort women, to liability claims made against Nippon Steel for wartime requisition, the list has become endless.
Since President Park Guen-hye took office, she has been continuously bashing Japan on her visits to foreign countries. Furthermore, on January 19th, as a joint venture with China, President Park agreed to erect a memorial at a Harbin railway station in China to honor An Jung-geun, the assassin of Japan’s first Prime Minister Hirobumi Ito. That location was the murder site in China.
This type of anti-Japanese diplomacy has recently roused voices of criticism and opposition from within Korea as well. That such diplomacy will end up hurting them. These issues should become increasingly more apparent as Koreans realize the fact that modern values have not taken root in their society. It’s no wonder that Japan and the States are often shocked. It’s difficult to understand Korean diplomacy.
A Pre-Modern Nation, A Befuddled Korea
Values such as “national independence,” “separation of the three branches of government,” “rule of law,” “guarantee of human rights” have historically characterized modernization. America set down these ideals in a modern constitution in 1787, and one after another from the 1848 Revolution many European countries did the same thing around the time when they became independent. Japan was the earliest to draft one in Asia. The Constitution of the Empire of Japan was established in 1889.
On the other hand, the Korean Peninsula was a territory dependent on the Qing Dynasty until the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Joseon existed for 500 years as a dynastic nation. When Korea permitted the Qing dynasty to reign, terror exceeded the levels of Medieval Europe at the hands of the royalty and bureaucracy. For Korea, it was a tragic period of history.
After the Qing Dynasty fell, Joseon looked to Russia for protection, but Japan defeated the country in the Russo-Japanese War. Hirobumi Ito planned to make Korea independent, but he was assassinated and Japan annexed Korea in 1910. During this Annexation era, there was progress in the modernization of the legal and education systems, voting rights, freedom of speech and press, and other things that Japan introduced. However, when Japan was defeated in World War II, the plans derailed.
In 1948, Korea finally established a modern Constitution, and it officially became a nation with the help of the United States. After that, it wasn’t until 1987′s “June 29 Declaration” that Korea established fair elections, local governments, and guarantees for the freedom of speech.
Korea has achieved a rank of 15th in the world in terms of GDP, but it has only recently democratized. As Korea has not acquired international manners yet, it’s difficult to consider it a modern nation.
As a point in fact, even today, when a regime change happens in Korea, police practice an awful pre-modern “habit”, they arrest and imprison the predecessor and his relatives. It would be unthinkable in developed countries like Japan or America.
Korea has begun to seek asylum from China in terms of diplomacy and the economy as if it decided that China is a greater nation than America. Indeed, it likes to rub shoulders with the powerful at the expense of throwing the nation 120 years back in time to the point when it was only a vassal state for the Qing Dynasty. Korea needs to reconsider and rework modernization efforts based on liberal ideals, if it wants to avoid a repeat of the same mistakes.
Happy Science members interviewed Mr. Masanori Mizuma, a researcher of modern history, on the modernization of Korea.