|A group of 1,270 intellectuals in Japan, including Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe, has urged Tokyo to self-reflect on the territorial disputes over the Dokdo islets and Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu in Chinese), saying in a statement, “Let’s end the vicious cycle of the terrestrial issue.” They issued a statement of appeal Friday in Tokyo saying, “We should not forget that this issue derives from the history of Japanese aggression in Asia.” The statement urges Japan to prevent a vicious cycle in which it disregards history and thus creates tension with and raises nationalism in neighboring countries, eventually triggering a crisis from terrestrial disputes.To prevent this imperialist trend that has Japan fast heading toward a right-wing ideology and to make the country directly face its history of aggression, the campaign has enlisted Hitoshi Motoshima, former mayor of Nagasaki, and Ken Tanaka, general secretary of the Article 9 Club, a group that seeks to preserve Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist constitution. The dispute over Dokdo also stems from the history of Japan’s aggression. The Japanese intellectuals said in their statement, “Japan annexed Dokdo at a time when Korea was the weakest and had no way to make a diplomatic demand,” admitting to the illegality of the 1910 Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has made absurd claims, one of which being, “Korea is illegally occupying Dokdo.” Shinzo Abe, chairman of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and a strong candidate for Japan’s next prime minister, has openly said, “If I take power, I will revise the Kono Statement and the Murayama Statement.” Noda and Abe should solemnly accept the earnest advice from the Japanese intellectuals, who said, “To the Korean people, Dokdo is a symbol of Japanese aggression and colonial rule.”The intellectuals are fully correct in raising concern over exclusive nationalism in Northeast Asia. Warning against nationalism being exploited by those in power as a means to overcome domestic problems, they urged a peaceful resolution of territorial disputes. In his op-ed piece published in the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun Friday, famed novelist Haruki Murakami said, “I fear that cultural achievements made by many people in Northeast Asia are being destroyed due to terrestrial disputes,” adding, “If the territorial issues move to the realm of the people’s sentiment, this will cause a dangerous situation with no way out.” The demand by the intellectuals that Korea, China and Japan should not be embroiled in nationalistic sentiment is, in principle, a move in the right direction. Korean society also needs to approach the conflict with its neighbors under the principle that it will preserve the cooperative relationship that the three nations have worked hard to build up thus far.
The appeal by the Japanese intellectuals offers a chance for not only Japanese people themselves but also Korea and China to logically view the terrestrial disputes, which have gone to the extreme. More than anything, a clue to resolving these disputes can be found only when ultra-nationalist politicians in Japan display a changed perception toward history.