SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Kim_Soongbae “Japan-Korea Relations, their ‘Postwar’ and ‘Liberalization’, and International Politics”

There is an opinion that the year 1945 is the standard of “Japan-Korea postwar relations”.  In human history, war has always been a big issue, and , there is also the opinion that colonialism has been a defining issue of human history.  



Mass-militant wars between Germany and France, which broke out many times in the past, are different from the relations between Japan and Korea. Postwar Japan”, which came about after defeat in the Pacific War, is different from postwar Korea. The Korean postwar came after the Korean War which occurred in 1950. There have been problems caused by colonialism both in Japan and Korea during the period of the Pacific War and these problems continued up until 1945. There are different perceptions and experiences in both countries, and specific differences in the histories of Japan and Korea that cannot simply be explained using the term “postwar”. 



The word “postwar” possesses special significance in Japan, both as a period in Japanese history and as a conceptual turning point. For example, November 3, 1946 is the birthday of Emperor Meiji.  The Constitution of Japan was announced officially on November 3, 1946 and it is said that the political leaders back then decided on the day considering the Emperor’s birthday. We can say that Japan, which was not directly involved in the Korean War, could be considered a “peace-loving nation” despite the fact that Japan has played an important role as a base country during the Korean War.  It was also Japan that proposed the so-called “postwar regime” of the 21st century.



In the “postwar regime”, Japan proposed shifting to a social framework suitable for the 21st century – if basic frameworks under the constitution like systems in administration, education, economy, employment, relations between central government and local, diplomacy and security etc. are deemed unsuitable for the 21st century. Given this, history just after the year 1945 in Japan is directly connected with the present.



In November, 1946, then Prime Minister Kijūrō Shidehara established the War Research Committee.  It was necessary for Japan to investigate autonomously actual events from the war to “establish a new, peaceful and highly civilized Japan.” In the Committee, they researched not only the Japan-China War and the Pacific War, but also the First World War, the Russo-Japanese War and the Meiji Restoration (明治維新).



However, there was no regard given to the Korean Peninsula. Such treatment was not unusual.  The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (the Tokyo Trials) which started in 1946 judged cases of unlawful actions by Japanese leaders during the time from 1928 to 1945.  As many people know, colonial problems were not taken up in these trials and liberal Japanese researchers have pointed out the problems of this. However, if you read the decision carefully, you would know that the Allied Powers approved the Annexation of Korea in 1910 as a right of Japan prior to 1928.



On the other hand, the word “liberalization” in Korea is synonymous with “postwar.”



On July 26, 1945, the Allies presented the Potsdam Declaration. Prior to Japan’s acceptance of the Declaration, the United States carried out the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan is the only country to have experienced atomic bombs, but the Japanese are not the only race that were affected. Those with roots in the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and the Mainland China were also the victims of atomic bombs.



At 11pm on August 14, Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration, and the Pacific War (the Great East Asian War) ended with the Emperor’s announcement on August 15.



The date of the Emperor’s mandate was August 14.After August 14, the battle between Japanese and Soviet armies was still going on, and it was on September 2 that this battle ended with the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender.



In many countries, September 2 is the Victory Day over Japan. However, in Japan, August 15 has two meanings – the end of the war and the beginning of the postwar period.



In the Korean Peninsula, the Emperor’s mandate had another meaning – liberalization.



Three years later, on August 15, 1948, Korea declared their independence and got international recognition by Resolution 195 (III) at the United Nations General Assembly on December 12 1948.



In Korea during this period, they were arguing about claims for compensation and referred to the Treaty of Versailles between the Allied and Associated Powers and Germany. The Treaty was very severe on Germany and concluded in 1919. Korean’s claims for compensation were not “punishment” nor “retaliation” against Japan, but rather “recovery from damages” which came from “violence” and “greed.”



In The Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea” concluded in 1949, it was mentioned that “Japan has ruled over Korea from 1910 to August 15, 1945”.  This means that Korea wanted to acknowledge the period of colonization by Japan. In the Treaty, they also mentioned “human damages which came from the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War,” meaning that they considered themselves as victims of war. In other words, Korea wanted to address both “colonial responsibility” and “war responsibility”.



In 1951, however, Japan concluded “The Peace Treaty of San Francisco” with the Allied nations which brought a conclusion to “the state of war” and reinstated their sovereignty. Korea was not authorized to sign the treaty.  The Peace Treaty of San Francisco, signed during the “Cold War” and “Hot War” (the Korean War) , formed “the order after the War” after the Asian Pacific War. However, there were no special rules for the formation of order after the liberation of colonies.



It is not difficult to criticize the Peace Treaty of San Francisco if we consider the situations mentioned above. However, historically many peace treaties tend to focus on wars and their aftermath.  Separation clauses that address the colonies of defeated nations do not consider the colonial issues that come up afterwards.  Notwithstanding such examples, Korea, whose sovereignty was approved by the United Nations in 1948, and Japan, which recovered its sovereignty in the Peace Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, have entered into international relations as mentioned in the preamble of “The Japan-Republic Korea Basic Relations Treaty” in 1965. Since then, both countries have been trying to narrow their divergence little by little. “The Kono (Chief Cabinet Secretary, in 1993) statement”, “Murayama (Prime Minister, in 1995) statement” and “Japan-Korea Joint Declaration” in 1998 were typical.



However, we have to realize that “the past” is still an issue today, and affects the economy as well as security – issues which we should work together on.



As a nation, they, like all human beings, pursue “prestige,” which is the basis of all fame and desire. It is not easy to find a correct “theory of practice” and means of overcoming the present crisis in Japan-Korea relations. It is necessary to have a mutual understanding and engage in self-reflection. Both countries have repeatedly emphasized the establishment of trust among political leaders and proposed the sharing of strategies including those regarding security issues, an established order of priority for problem solving, and continued exchange in the private sectors and so on.



We can explain such opinions from the viewpoint of “international politics” as follows (although they may not be solutions):



1. There is a saying in Latin that “we have to maintain mutual consent,” meaning that promises between national sovereignties precede over individual promises in international laws, stipulated on the premise of “The Vienna Treaties” (The Laws of Treaties)

2. Emer de Vattel, a Swiss jurist and diplomat, says, in his famous “International laws,” that in order to restore peace there must be negotiation through concession or compromise rather than a strict principle of justice.

3. The theory of “reconciliation” in international politics has been formulated from the study for conciliation. The three-layer structure of reconciliation provides international stability. The “three-layers” refer to systematic reconciliation by agreements, physical reconciliation by compensation, and ideal reconciliation by mourning or commemorative ceremonies.



The three viewpoints from international politics mentioned above came from the theses for “war and peace”.  In Japan-Korea relations the viewpoint of “colonies and peace” is necessary, and both countries require its development for international politics.  If a war among sovereign nations were to break out in the near future, it would be possible to end it officially via a peace treaty.  In the modern world, it will not be possible to be a nation under colonial rule. War and colonization are not humane acts. If we compare the sense of crisis against a possible war crisis, the colonial issue will remain an issue of the past. This gap in understanding between Japan and Korea comes from differences in interpretations and perceptions of the past. If there existed an “international politics for relations between Japan and Korea”, it would be possible to propose a thesis for understanding war, peace and colonies” not only in Japan and Korea but for the world as well.      


SGRA Kawaraban 608 in Japanese (Original)


Kim Soongbae / Eminent Professor, Faculty of Humanities, Chungnam (忠南) National University (Korea)


Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale