Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clashes again

I found two nice articles on JoongAngIlbo again.

As always, I like articles, because I can make my own stand on the topic. Do not take it literally.

National pride through history
School history textbooks should contain content that guides young people to a fair and accurate vision of history. Textbooks should facilitate pride in our heritage and imbue students with the vision and spirit to create the future. The ultimate responsibility for historiography lies with the government.

The Seoul High Court recently ruled in favor of the government’s demand for corrections to what it saw as pro-North Korean and leftist statements in history textbooks published by Kumsung Publishing. The court’s decision has reaffirmed the government’s authority over textbook editing to ensure an unbiased and fair account of history in school textbooks.

The court also acknowledged the government’s authority in vetting and supervising the textbooks produced by private publishing companies. It concluded that the government can censor textbooks that contain views or expressions that discredit the legitimacy of the state or its system of government. The government, therefore, can require changes in problematic textbooks even after they have been published.

The court ruled that the accounts in the Kumsung textbooks were “incorrect.” The text’s biggest flaw was that it discredited the accomplishments of South Korea and painted North Korea in a favorable light. For instance, the text said that the Taegeukgi (South Korea’s national flag) was not the only flag that went up after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, in order to highlight the role of foreign countries in Korea’s liberation. It also said that both North and South Korea took steps to establish governments, implying that South Korea was partly to blame for division of the country and war. This could have led students to believe their ancestors were the culprits in a historic tragedy.

The government is currently rewriting new Korean history textbooks for release in 2013. It has announced new guidelines and plans to write and edit the books based on them. The government has been working with scholars since April to fix problems in textbooks and the history curriculum. Their efforts must result in thoroughly factual and fair historical accounts.

History textbooks should, most of all, report history in a way that fosters national pride in our heritage. They must underscore Korea’s remarkable triumphs despite colonization, division and war through modernization and democratization. The narrative on North Korea should also be true and just.

We should stop making textbooks that demean ourselves and our historical legacy.
(from Editorials board, no name of the author)
[Viewpoint] It takes two to tango

As I prepared for my new post in Tokyo as a correspondent, a close source shared an anecdote to give me an idea on how to approach and deal with the Japanese people. What he related was a telephone conversation between President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan soon after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of Japan in March.

Lee had been on a trip to United Arab Emirates for a signing ceremony for the country’s largest nuclear plant deal. As soon as the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan’s northeastern coastal region, the Korean foreign ministry proposed to Tokyo sending a large-scale rescue force.

But the Japanese government politely turned the offer down, saying a couple of rescue dogs would do. The Japanese people’s innate dislike to bother others, deep-seated tension between the two countries and national pride could all have been part of the reasons for the rejection.

But a telephone call between the two leaders cleared away the gunk in the diplomatic channel. Lee, who is well acquainted with Japan’s nature and pride, took a friendly but circuitous route to the main point of the offer to help. He told Kan the enormous disaster that hit Japan could take place anywhere on the earth.

“If such calamities hit us, I think Japan would be among the first to come rushing to help. Am I not right?” the Korean president asked his Japanese counterpart.

Kan naturally had to answer yes, that of course Japan would have been the first to offer help.

“Well, since your country is under such distress, we too as a neighbor should do everything in our power to help,” Lee responded. Ultimately the two leaders agreed that Korea would dispatch a 100-member rescue team to the crippled areas.

After the rescue team issue was settled, the Japanese prime minister assured Lee that the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi complex was different from the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine. He might have wanted to assuage international concerns about a nuclear meltdown and radioactive leak in Japan, a powerhouse in nuclear energy technology.

Lee, who worked on a nuclear plant project during his years at Hyundai Engineering and Construction, consoled the Japanese leader, saying he was an expert in the nuclear reactor business and he knew Japan’s nuclear disaster was very different from Chernobyl. The phone conversation ended very amicably.

My source may have wanted to underscore the president’s skills in diplomatic talk, but I discovered merit in the story from another perspective. The episode is a good example on how thorny civilian- and government-level issues can be ironed out through diplomacy at the top. If state leaders have a strong will, they can reshape relations between countries.

As a political correspondent at the Blue House for the last three years, I personally felt Lee was attached to improving relations with Japan. Even as bitterness and anti-Japan sentiment swelled recently due to the spat over the Dokdo islets, Lee toned down his rhetoric against Japan in his annual Aug. 15 Liberation Day address.

Even with the ruling party and some senior government officials proposing a military presence on Dokdo to demonstrate our sovereignty over the disputed islets, the president commented no more than: “Japan has the responsibility to teach the future generation accurate history.”

Kan is expected to step down within weeks amid poor approval rating and political pressure. It takes two to tango. We hope the next Japanese leader will be future oriented and work toward better bilateral relations. Among the frontrunners as candidates from the ruling Democratic Party to succeed Kan is Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

He recently irked Korea by defending the Japanese prime minister’s tradition of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war heroes, by saying the Class-A war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal were not actually war criminals. If Noda wins the presidency of the ruling party and becomes the prime minister, we might as well fold any hopes for better and mature relations with Japan.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Seo Seung-wook