|▲ Disputes among East Asian Countries.|
History is rampant with tales of many international conflicts and wars between nations. The relationships between France and England, the UK and Ireland, England and Argentina, Israel and Palestine, and Iran and Iraq can be equated to a cat and dog affair, but tensions are not isolated to these nations. Many nations in East Asia also have troublesome relationships with each other.
First, Korea and Japan have been on tender terms for a long time, but this wasn’t always the case. At one time, the relationship between Korea and Japan was a positive one. During the Joseon dynasty they were seen as partner nations and encouraged cultural exchanges between the two countries. As a result, they enjoyed friendly relations for about 200 years. However, this all came to an end during the era of Japanese colonialism. Today the recognition and remorse for the wartime comfort women, and other prominent distortions of history shape the Korea-Japan relationship. The ownership of Dokdo Island is another example of today’s on-going tensions, and as a result, the relationship between Korea and Japan continues to deteriorate.
Second, the Chinese also maintain their own anti-Japanese sentiment based on the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. China has since been fighting for damages, but Japan has still today, offered no contrition for its actions. Their relationship has been further worsened by the conflict over Senkaku Island. This is similar to the dispute Korea has with Japan over the sovereignty of Dokdo Island. However, the Chinese method of expressing anti-Japanese sentiment is more violent and pro-active in comparison to Korea. At the peak of the dispute over the sovereignty of Senkaku Island, the Chinese destroyed Japanese cars they found on the street, and even struck their drivers. As a result, people who owned Japanese cars in China posted stickers on their vehicles which said “Diaoyu Islands belong to China This car is Japanese, but this heart is Chinese,” imprinted on the image of the Chinese flag. Because of this anti-Japanese sentiment, Korea reaped the benefits in the form of higher car exports, rice, and cosmetics. In fact, ‘Hyundai Motors’ recorded the second highest rate of foreign car sales in China behind ‘Volkswagen’ last year.
Finally, Taiwan and China have had a unique relationship for many years. In 1949, the Chinese Civil War erupted with citizens lining up between the Kuomintang Nationalists Party and the Communist Party of China. The nationalists lost the war, and escaped to the island of Taiwan. They set up Taipei as the temporary capital of China, while the Communist Party of China established Beijing as the capital of the Peoples Republic of China. From the point of view of China, Taiwan is not an independent nation and Taiwan and China must reunite one day even this is done by force. For the Taiwanese, they have always considered themselves somewhat independent from China, although Taiwan has not been recognized by the UN as a sovereign nation and as a result, suffers trade disadvantages among other things. Their official name is ‘Chinese Taipei’ when they participate in sporting events, further linking the countries in the eyes of the world. Because of this delicate relationship between China and Taiwan, the recent ‘Tzuyu issue’, that resulted from a popular Taiwanese pop star waving the flag of Taiwan at a concert, had a huge impact on their relationship.
An improvement of relations between nations is not an easy process. Since the first drawing of borders and the creation of nations, countries have affected each other politically and financially through wars, trade, etc. In the interest of a better future for everyone, we have to resolve these disputes.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Kwon Yong-gi (instructor of East Asian history at Kangnam Daesung) for more details about the present status of relationships between East Asian countries and possible solutions to these conflicts. The DKH began the interview by asking Mr. Kwon which countries have the most negative relationship in East Asia. He said “Considering the deep and long history of East Asia, the relationship between Korea and Japan is the most adversarial one. The conflict began in the 13th century when the Goryeo and Mongolian invasions of Japan took place. After that invasion, the Japanese Imjin Invasion of Korea in 1592, the Japanese colonial era and several other smaller events led to the poor relationship between the two countries.” With regard to the Tzuyu issue, the DKH asked his opinion of the relationship between China and Taiwan. He believes that the debate surrounding the issue went as far as to affect the outcome of the recent Taiwanese government election. The Democratic Progressive Party’s victory in the Taiwanese presidential election this year resulted largely because they insisted on an independent Taiwan. Finally, Mr. Kwon added his opinion about the approach Korea has to take to these disputes and the solutions to them. He said that the relationships between East Asian countries are so entwined that we constantly have to pay attention to what other countries are doing. A small move in Seoul can result in big consequences in Taiwan and vice versa because of the so called ‘Butterfly Effect’. And it is those small moves that can affect us like a boomerang. He also said that we should not just blame each other nor take sides. Before we assign blame, we have to understand the reasons why some things happened.
There are so many unresolved disputes between East Asian countries, such as in the relationships between Korea and Japan, Korea and China, China and Taiwan, and China and Japan. The key to addressing these disputes is found in a matter of ‘understanding’ as Mr. Kwon put it. In the Tzuyu issue for example, it is important to understand that why the Chinese were upset about the pop star waving the Taiwanese flag and why the Taiwanese were unhappy about her subsequent apology. Before we judge or blame one another, we have to understand where the other side is coming from.
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