“Postwar” and “liberation” of Korea-Japan relations, and International Politics



There are views of “postwar Korea-Japan relations” setting 1945 as the universal standard. War has always been a critical issue in human history. On the other hand, there are people who perceive colonization as a contrary concept to peace. The collective hot wars which happened several times between Germany and France are different from the Korea-Japan relationship after the war. The postwar state of Japan after losing the Pacific War is also different from postwar Korea after the 1950 Korean War. Above all things, there exists the issue of colonization during the Pacific War which continued until 1945, and the experiences and perceptions about this are different between Japan and Korea. “A specific difference” is present in the history of Japan and Korea that cannot be explained through “postwar”. The term “postwar” in Japan has significant meaning in terms of the periodization and tipping point of its ideas. Even though the date November 3, 1946 when Japan promulgated a constitution is the birth date of Emperor Meiji, and the politicians of those days decided the date of promulgation based on this fact, and though Japan acted as the base station during the Korean War, Japan can call themselves as a “peace state” simply because postwar Japan was not directly involved in war. However, if advocating the “postwar regime” means altering into a new structure by changing those that do not fit with the times, such as their constitution based administration system, education, economy, employment, the relationship between the state and the local, diplomacy and security, the post-1945 history of Japan is directly related to the present. In November 1945, the War Investigation Council was initiated around Prime Minister Kijūrō Shidehara. The voluntary inquiry of the cause and fact-finding of the war was necessary for "the construction of a new Japan with a peaceful and happy high standard culture." The council retroacted to the period of not only the Sino-Japanese war and the Pacific war but also the first World War, Russo-Japanese War, and up until the period of the Meiji restoration. Nevertheless, there was not any recognition of a Korean war. This is not shown particularly in Japan. The Tokyo Trial that started in 1946 heard unlawful acts done from 1928 to 1945 by the Japanese leaders, but liberal Japanese scholars have criticized that the colonization issue was absent in the trials. According to the sentencing, the issue of colonization was, in fact, not missing, but rather was admitted by the Allied Powers that the “annexation of Korea” in 1910 is the right which Japan had acquired prior to 1928. On the other hand, the terms “liberation” and “postwar” used in Korea share the same time scale. On July 26, 1945, the Allied Power suggested the Potsdam Declaration. When Japan did not accept, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan is the first and sole victim of the atomic bomb, but was not the only race who suffered from it. Ethnic groups from the Korean peninsula or Taiwan and Japan were victims of the atomic bomb as well. On August 11, at 11 pm, Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration. Though Hirohito announced the end of “the Greater East Asia War“ through a radio broadcast the next day, the date of the rescript was August 14th. The battle between the Japanese and Russian army continued even after August 15, and the war was ended by Japan joining the submission document. Multiple countries made August 15 as Victory over Japan Day (Victory in the Pacific Day). However, this date not only indicated “the termination of war” but also the beginning of the “postwar”. Nonetheless, the liberation of Korea was irrelevant to the statement of Hirohito. Three years later on August 15, 1948, Korea declared independence and obtained international approval on December 12 through the United Nation Resolution 195. At the time, the discussions on the matter of claiming for reparation to Japan was already on the agenda in Korea, and the Versailles treaty that was harsh on Germany was also used as a reference to the legal basis. Nonetheless, the demand for compensation on Japan was not a “retaliation” or “punishment” but a “damage recovery” of the “violence” and “greed”. Korea’s “Report on demanding compensation of Japan” talks about the period of colonization by describing “the period from 1910 to August 15, 1945 when Japanese ruled over Korea”. Moreover, the report includes the damage caused by wars by describing the “human damage from the Sino-Japanese war and the Pacific War”. In other words, the demand encompassed both “the responsibility for colonization” and “for the war”. However, Korea was not qualified for signatory power in the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 which officially ended the “war state” between Japan and the Allied Power and restored the sovereignty of Japan. The treaty of San Francisco formed the “postwar order” after the Pacific War during “the hot war” at the Korean War in the Cold War period. Although this aspect of the Treaty of San Francisco can be criticized, most peace treaties throughout history focus on “the war and after”, not the “colonization and after,” even if there existed any article regarding the separation of a colony. As the Treaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan made in 1965 displays, Korea, which was recognized for their sovereignty through the United Nation in 1948, and Japan, which regained its sovereignty from the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, established their diplomatic relations. The relationship between these two nations has progressed, narrowing the disparities and differing perceptions about the past with the Kono statements, Murayama Statement, and Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration of 1988. Yet, the issues regarding the past history still remain as the crucial setbacks in South Korea-Japan relationship. This is affecting the economy and security issues, which used to have some complementation between the two. The nation also pursues reputation and dignity, just as human nature does. It is not an easy task to derive a “theory of practice” on how to overcome the crisis of the current Japan-South Korea relationship. Hence, mutual understanding and self-examination are crucial for political leaders to confirm their strategy to build trust and security, to establish the priorities on problem-solving, and to continue exchange between private organizations. Although it is not a solution, “International Politics” can comprehensively argue the following points. Firstly, the Latin aphorism of “an agreement must be abided by” indicates that a promise between the two sovereign nations is more than a promise between two individuals, and this also is in effect in international law. This is also stipulated in the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties”. Secondly, Emer de Vattel (1714-1767), who was a jurist and a Swiss diplomat that was independent of the Roman Empire, in his well known 『The Law of Nations (Le Droit des Gens) 』, asserted that concession and compromises are more important in finding convergence and restoring peace than to comply to rigid principles of justice. Lastly, the theory of “reconciliation” in international politics has been systemized by studying the method of reconciliation. The triplet structure of institutional reconciliation such as treaties, materialistic reconciliation through compensation, and notional reconciliation of memorials or commemoration brings about stability between the nations. These three viewpoints from international politics are derived from the thesis of “War and Peace”. Therefore, the relationship between Japan and Korea demands the development of International politics in that it requires the perspective of “colonization and peace“. In the near future when a war occurs between the two sovereign states, an official end of war will be made through a peace treaty. However, it is unlikely that there will be a case where “colonization rule” will be established. Despite the fact that both war and colonization are brutal, the issue of colonization remains only as the problem of the past, whereas war is recognized as a danger that could happen any day. The different views of Korea and Japan stem from the perceptions and interpretations of the past. Nonetheless, if there exists “international politics on the relationship between Korea-Japan”, the theses of “war, peace, and colony” needs to be raised not only in the history of the two states but also in world history.


***The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the opinions of NKR or Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.

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