Leading candidates slug it out over “pro-Japanese hunting” vs. “pragmatism”… South Korea’s presidential election is all about Japan
article by Hiromi Kamoshita Fuji TV Deputy Head of the International Materials Department of the Newspaper Bureau and Deputy Head of the Interpretation Committee
At a press conference, he also called for a boycott of the Olympics.
“Why should our country, which was invaded by Japan, be divided when Japan, the aggressor, should be divided?
The governor of Gyeonggi Province, Lee Jae-myung, who is the leading presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and has the highest approval rating in the party, uttered these shocking words. He said that Japan’s colonial rule led to the division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II, which in turn led to the tragedy of the Korean War.
In fact, this theory of the “division of Japan” is Lee’s own, and he has been talking about it openly for some time. The problem is that this was at a press conference where he was running for president.
Lee Jae-myung announces his candidacy (July 1).
On July 1, Lee released a video announcing his candidacy, and held an online press conference the following day.
Lee Jae-myung at an online press conference.
During the press conference, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, there were two questions related to Japan. One was about the boycott of the Tokyo Olympics, and the other was about improving Japan-South Korea relations, which are at their worst since the end of World War II.
In South Korea, a number of people protested against the inclusion of Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture on the Japanese map on the Tokyo Olympics website, and advocated a boycott. Mr. Lee was the spearhead of this movement and sent a letter to International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Bach requesting his intervention. However, the IOC responded that the boycott was merely a geopolitical display and not political propaganda, and the boycott fuss is subsiding.
However, Mr. Lee has not changed his position that the boycott should continue.
“This is against the spirit of the Olympics,” he said.
Mr. Lee’s argument is that it is unacceptable that Japan refuses to accept the compromise made by the South Korean side during the PyeongChang Olympics to remove the notation “Dokdo (Takeshima’s Korean name) is Korean territory. “He reiterated that a boycott should be considered in order to “preserve it as a historical record.
Hard-core “anti-Japanese” view of history
Mr. Lee Jae-myung is known as the “Trump of Korea” for his blunt talk. He has also been fiercely critical of Japan on territorial and historical issues, calling former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others “conservative right-wingers. For this reason, some fear that if he were to become president, he might adopt a more radical anti-Japanese policy than the current Moon Jae-in administration.
In response to a question about improving relations between Japan and South Korea, Lee said, “I was asked the most difficult question today at the end of the day: ……,” and replied, “I’m sorry.
He said, “(Japan and Korea) have a painful past of invading and being invaded in the near past. For the perpetrators, it may have passed, but for the victims, the pain still remains. The comfort women issue is one such example, and so is the issue of conscription (so-called former conscripts). Clearing up the pro-Japanese residue, clearing up the domination structure, these are issues that remain in our society.
These words encapsulate Lee’s view of Japan and its history.
In other words, the basic idea is that Japan is the perpetrator and Korea is the victim, and that Japan should deal with historical issues with this in mind. He also believes that Koreans who sided with Japan during the colonial era have continued to rule after the war, and that this has distorted Korean society by creating “pro-Japanese residue.
The current administration’s signature policy is “pro-Japanese accumulation” and “liquidation of pro-Japanese residue,” and Mr. Lee is putting this into practice more radically than anyone else.
Establishment of anti-Japanese sites in Gyeonggi Province
In 2019, the 100th anniversary of Korea’s 3.1 independence movement, Gyeonggi Province, where Lee serves as governor, embarked on a survey of pro-Japanese residue with the aim of “liquidating the pro-Japanese culture that has taken deep root in our daily lives. As a result, 257 “pro-Japanese people,” 161 “pro-Japanese monuments” (monuments, etc.), and 89 school songs written by “pro-Japanese people” were listed.
Monuments identified as pro-Japanese residue
In addition, for past governors whose names appear in the “pro-Japanese people encyclopedia” created by a private organization, their “pro-Japanese acts” will be posted on the province’s website.
At the press conference, he said, “Some people evaluate me as anti-Japanese, but I don’t hate Japan and I don’t have any animosity toward the Japanese people,” and pointed out that relations between Japan and South Korea “should be a mutually recognized and partner-like relationship. The problem is the conservative right-wing political groups,” he added, “and I ask for reflective and future-oriented judgments, decisions, and actions from the Japanese political world.
While acknowledging the need to improve relations between Japan and South Korea, at the root of the problem is a hardcore, so-called “progressive (innovative)” view of Japan.
“Will there be a showdown on “Japan vs.
On the other hand, the opposition’s leading candidate, former Attorney General Yun Seok-yeol, has a contrasting view of Japan. He has been battling with Lee Jae-myung for the top spot in public opinion polls, and they are in direct conflict over his views on history. For this reason, his policy toward Japan is likely to emerge as one of the key issues in the next presidential election (March 2022).
Yun Seok-yeol’s press conference
Mr. Yun has stated that he will pursue diplomacy based on “pragmatism” and aim to improve relations between Japan and South Korea through intergovernmental dialogue. He dismissed the “anti-Japan” diplomacy under the Moon administration as “ideologically biased,” and is determined to distinguish himself from the approach of the ruling party toward Japan.
“Diplomacy must be based on pragmatism, realpolitik, and realism.
“I believe that the relationship between the two Koreas is one in which the truth about the past must be revealed so that future generations can remember history accurately, but we must also cooperate in a truly practical way for the sake of future generations.
Although Yun did not mention his own perceptions of the comfort women agreement or the commandeering lawsuit, or specific solutions, he positioned the Japan-South Korea relationship as one that requires practical cooperation based on the economic and security ties between the two countries. It also seems to be seeking a solution within a comprehensive framework, rather than dealing with the issues between Japan and South Korea separately.
Clash over “U.S. occupation forces” remark
Lee Jae-myung has also caused controversy with his view of the history of Korea’s founding.
“Unlike the process of establishing a government in other countries, pro-Japanese forces joined forces with the U.S. occupation forces to maintain the rule of the Republic of Korea in the absence of a pro-Japanese reckoning.
Post-war Korea was recognized by the international community on August 15, 1948, when Syngman Rhee declared the founding of the country and became its first president. Lee Jae-myung’s statement that the first government was created by pro-Japanese forces and the U.S. occupation forces can be seen as a denial of the country’s founding history. The opposition and conservative media reacted fiercely.
Yun also posted on his Facebook page, “Self-distortion of history is absolutely unacceptable,” and strongly criticized the government for “denying the nation’s legitimacy and trying to transform it into a country that follows a false ideology. This is the first time that Yun has criticized Lee Jae-myung by name.
Mr. Yun opened his FB page for the presidential election.
In response, Lee responded, “I had hoped that [Yun] would lead a new political life, but I am disappointed that he is still attacking the old ideology. The battle between the leading candidates of the ruling and opposition parties is intensifying.
On the other hand, there are those who fear that this is not the time for a battle of ideas.
In South Korea, the number of people infected with the new coronavirus surpassed the 1,000 mark for the first time in six months on August 7, and the country is now under threat from a fourth wave of the spread of the mutated virus. Vaccinations are not progressing due to a shortage of vaccine supplies. In addition to the economic downturn, the country is also facing serious problems of soaring real estate prices, economic disparity, and an aging population. In an editorial, the major conservative newspaper, the JoongAng Ilbo, said, “It is unfortunate that Korea is fighting over something that happened more than 70 years ago, when competition over the future, or even today, is still insufficient. It is unfortunate for Korea.
Lee and Yun are battling for the top spot in terms of approval ratings, but they will now be under heavy attack from other candidates who are trying to catch up. The battle to expose scandals, including negative campaigns, has already begun. Eight candidates, including Lee, are running in the preliminary election to determine the presidential nominee of the Together for Democracy Party, and they will seek the nomination in the party’s internal election in September. Meanwhile, the opposition People’s Power party plans to hold a preliminary election around November.
In South Korea’s presidential elections, the future is dark and anything is possible. We will have to wait and see who will be chosen as the presidential candidate by the ruling and opposition parties.