Japan, Korea, and the United States: Comparisons & Contrasts
What will the be the role of the U.S. going into the future vis-a-vis Japan and Korea? Now that Kim Jong-il has died and his son is taking over in the highly secretive, communist North Korea, it adds a powerful degree of uncertainty as to what the relationship will be between South Korea, Japan, and North Korea. Indeed, given that Kim's son is an unknown and hence his presence is a somewhat frightening development for the two democracies, will the U.S. respond unilaterally with the son, or attempt to align in a triangle with South Korea and Japan?
As an example of the tension in Korea, shortly after Kim's death was announced, "North Korean troops canceled their field training and returned to their barracks on high alert," according to The New York Times (Sang-Hun, 2011). On Wednesday, December 21, the U.S. And South Korea made cautious overtures to the North, Sang-Hun explained; it was announced that South Korea did not send a delegation to the Kim's funeral. The Noda administration in Japan released a statement that it "…hopes to take appropriate action as needed" with regard to the new North Korean leader (Auslin, 20110. This "meshes nicely with the White House's words of reassurance that the United States remains committed to stability and peace" on the Korean peninsula and in the region -- including, of course, with Japan (Auslin), according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, Japan & Korea are facing a dichotomy; they are being brought closer together by "increasing economic ties and people-to-people contacts" but at the same time they are being pulled apart by "politicizing forces," according to an article by Gilbert Rozeman and Shin-wha Lee in the peer-reviewed journal Asian Survey. Former Korean president, the late Roh Moo-Hyun, contributed to the growing friendly relations, as did his Japanese counterpart, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Rozeman explains. However, the past still haunts these two Asian nations; indeed there are a "profound set of forces at work…linking unresolved matters from deep in the past" to a sense of "uncertainty" with regards to the future (Rozeman, 2006, p. 762).
When the authors talk about "deep in the past" they allude to the continuing "…wide gap over how to handle the legacy of Japan's colonial rule" (764). Clearly there remains serious Korean distrust toward Japan on several fronts, including the belief that Japan's dealings with North Korea are somehow suspect, Rozeman explains (771).
The relationship between Japan and Korea when viewed in terms of these nations' interactions with the United States could eventually create a "repositioning" in which Japan would tend to zero in on its relationship with the U.S. "to the exclusion of most of its regional ties," Rozeman continues (763). One of the keys to this potentiality is that South Koreans believe the U.S. And Japanese are being too "aggressive" in their approach to North Korea. In their conclusion, Rozeman and Lee assert that both South Korean and Japanese citizens had hoped (in 2004) for an end to the "abnormal dependency on the U.S." -- and had hoped that they would no longer be "squeezed between the brinkmanship of Kim Jong-il and the assertiveness of George W. Bush" (783). But now that both Bush and Kim are gone, what will the future bring?
Japan & South Korea -- Contrasts, Similarities
Meanwhile Miranda Schreurs' article -- written four years prior to Rozeman / Lee's piece -- offers the contrasts and similarities between Korea and Japan, with particular focus on democracy, environment and women's rights. Schreurs was shocked to learn that notwithstanding South Korea's relatively new democratic institutions, their non-governmental organizations (NGOs) "…had more voice in the environmental policy making than did their counterparts in either Japan or the U.S." (Schreurs). Does that mean that South Korea is more democratic than Japan? Not at all. It is just different. Japan had democracy forced on it when the U.S. defeated the militaristic regime in 1945 and occupied Japan, and the democratic way of life that was installed by the U.S. allowed for a "wave of protests" to hit Japan in the 1960s, demanding a clean-up of "the severe pollution problems that rapid industrialization caused" (Schreurs).
How did the Japanese government finally respond to the protests over pollution? Schreurs explains that the Japanese government basically shut off the debate on environmental issues by enacting legislation that "…was among the most advanced in the world" and subsequently "citizens' movements faded from the scenes." In fact Japan has made it difficult for citizen groups to form non-profit corporations, which is one way of explaining why South Korea has so many NGOs compared to Japan. In Japan, Schreurs explains, "civil society was kept under close bureaucratic supervision" resulting from restrictive legislation enacted during the Meiji epoch by a "powerful oligarchy suspicious of the ability of the masses to effectively participate in politics."
In South Korea, the fight for democratic institutions was much more difficult; after years of protests for a more open society -- including huge protests that resulted in the "killing of hundreds of student demonstrators in Kwangju" -- the "tide had turned" in 1987 and by 2002, South Korea had been under democratic rule for ten years, Schreurs goes on. This new democratic spirit led to "popular demands for environmental protection and clean-up" in the 1980s, and that led to the establishment of environmental groups that were led by former students that were veterans of student-led demonstrations for democracy. It is interesting that the activists in South Korea that originally were involved in issues of ecology and conservation are now "…working to reform party politics…as well" (Schreurs).
What are the Legacies of War and Total Devastation in South Korea & Japan?
The legacy of Japan's demise at the hands of the American military -- the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the horrendous destruction and death that resulted -- is well-known to the world. When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the country was run by a dictator; following the surrender to America in 1945, and following the American occupation, Japan emerged energized as a new industrial democracy and enjoyed prosperity in short order.
Meanwhile, the war legacy of South Korea is less well-known. In H.B. Drake's essay ("Korea in the World") the author asserts that South Korea is a "burgeoning liberal democracy and advanced economy deeply embedded in global networks of political, economic, and cultural interaction and integration." Prior to that democratic and economic success, South Korea had been occupied and dominated by the Mongols (13th century), the Japanese (late 16th century), and again the Japanese in the early twentieth century. Drake finds it fascinating -- and historically unique -- that when the Japanese occupied Korea in 1910, it was the first time the peninsula had been unified in the seventh century. The fact that Japan occupied Korea in the 20th century was not necessarily based on empire building by Japan or to simply acquire strategic property. Japan was there to "control spaces that might otherwise come under the domination of competitors" (Drake, 8).
That said, Korea to this day has justifiably bitter remembrances of the Japanese occupation, during which time, Drake reveals, Japanese occupiers in Korea "lived privileged lives" and "Koreans became second-class citizens in their own country" (Drake, 13). There are three particularly hideous components to the oppression that was visited on Koreans by Japan, and Koreans have not forgotten. Those three are: a) Koreans were basically made to be slaves in Japan's "highly oppressive war mobilization" (forcible industrial labor) on Korean soil; b) Korean men were conscripted into military service for Japan; and c) "…tens of thousands of Korean women and girls" were forced into "sexual slavery for the Japanese army" (Drake, 15).
South Korea also took a vicious hit during the Korean War that ended in 1953, as "Millions of Koreans had been killed, maimed, or made homeless as a result of the war" (Chapter Two, p. 20). Thanks to the American involvement in the Korean War -- and the American presence following the war -- the South Korean education system, and culture (films, music, television and literature) was influenced to an enormous degree by American culture. The American culture was seen by South Koreans (especially after the U.S. pushed back the communist threat to overpower the south) as "preferable to Japanese popular culture (which was officially forbidden for South Korean consumption until the late 1990s)" (p. 25). That having been said, South Korea's economic and cultural dependence in the U.S. ended in the 1990s, and in fact South Korea itself has become "…a major exporter of popular culture products… music, movies and television dramas" (25-26).
Which Nation…Shows the Greatest Potential for Future Economic Growth?
South Korea shows the greatest potential, for several reasons. On page 33 the authors of The Koreas insist that "No country in the world has industrialized as quickly and as extensively as has the Republic of…