Korea Taking Japanese Grievances Global
By Kevin Hockmuth and George Baca
For those who have spent even a short time living in the Republic of Korea, it is readily evident that anti-Japanese sentiments run strong and hot. On one level, it makes sense that ordinary Koreans would have a strong sense of grievance associated with the prior Japanese occupation. In the early days of the Republic, elite politicians worked frantically against the accusations that South Korea was home to the “collaborators.” Indeed, anti-Japanese rhetoric has been a mainstay of South Korean politics.
The legacy of this national formation has hit us hard on numerous occasions where we have witnessed the miraculous conversion of an apathetic student into a sharp, energetic critic driven by an almost missionary zeal informing one of Japanese wrongs: from Dokdo and the renaming of the “Sea of Japan” to comfort women. Often conversations on these subjects turn to how best to get world opinion behind Korea’s position on these issues.
Increasingly, the Korean government has sought to take these popular resentments and insert them into the agenda within the multilateral international framework. A recent New York Times article entitled, “U.S. Emerges as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry”, illustrates the point. The article points to a transition from the usual ham-handed PR campaigns to stoke global opinion about Japan’s past misdeeds, to a more sophisticated approach that begins on K-Street in Washington. It seems that Korean strategists have found their way to the Mecca of lobbying; a mainstay of US power politics: making campaign contributions to get your issues on the agenda.
And these efforts have yielded some minor, yet notable, political outcomes that move the ball in the direction the Korean government wants it to go. Activists in the Korean-American community have been successful in constructing statues commemorating comfort women in Glendale, CA and Palisades Park, NJ. Furthermore, the legislature in Virginia has recently passed a bill that requires all textbooks in the state must include the name East Sea along with the generally more accepted name Sea of Japan; a similar piece of legislation is currently pending in New York. In the case of Virginia, the result came after heavy lobbying by the diplomatic detachment of both countries, including their respective ambassadors.
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