Posted : 2009-07-08 17:49
Updated : 2009-07-08 17:49

Web of Institutions Can Resolve History Issues in Northeast Asia

Professor Mike Mochizuki
By Do Je-hae
Staff Reporter

China, Japan and Korea have unresolved historical issues with one another that still hinder mutual understanding and regional security, but the problem may be eased with expanding a network of institutions for expediting transnational dialogue on history, a U.S. professor said Wednesday.

Professor Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University urged the U.S. to work on historical reconciliation with Japan in order to exercise a more effective position in the resolution of historical conflicts among Northeast Asian countries.

The expert on U.S.-Japan security issues made the remarks at a lecture organized by the Northeast Asian History Foundation in Seoul under the theme of ``Historical Reconciliation and East Asian Security: an American Perspective."

``During the Cold War era, the linkage between history and security was relatively unproblematic in U.S.-Japan relations. For the United States, there was no compelling reason to promote historical reconciliation between Japan and its Asian neighbors," he said in a prior handout of his presentation.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, historical issues have had a great impact on regional security situations, as evidenced in the case of former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine that caused heated protests in Korea and China.

As the linkage between history and security becomes more relevant, the 59-year-old scholar said that the U.S. first needs to settle its own history issues with Japan as it continues its stance as a mediator between Korea-Japan and Japan-China historical conflicts.

``If Americans, officially or unofficially, are to play a constructive role in facilitating a positive dialogue about history between Japanese and Chinese and between Japanese and Koreans, then perhaps Japanese and Americans must also address their own issues of history as well," Mochizuki said.

``Despite their alliance relationship, the United States and Japan have still not achieved reconciliation on historical issues. A Japanese prime minister has yet to visit Pearl Harbor, and an American president is still unwilling to take the political risks of visiting Hiroshima or Nagasaki."

However, there are signs of improvements in U.S.-Japan history reconciliation, as illustrated by the 2008 visit by U.S. Speaker of the U.S. Nancy Pelosi to the Hiroshima monument in memory of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing victims. Speaker of Japan's House of Representatives returned the gesture with a visit to the U.S. memorial cemetery for the victims of Japan's 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.

The professor also urged Korea and Japan to ``move toward a deeper historical reconciliation at the inter-societal as well as the inter-state level."

``Japan-Korea reconciliation would facilitate the long-term project of inclusive security community-building in Northeast Asia ― a task that is garnering more support in the U.S. foreign policy analysts."

He said that now is a good time for Northeast Asian countries to attempt historical reconciliation due to decreased tensions on historical issues.

``After the Northeast Asian 'memory wars' of 2001-2006 fueled in large part by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated pilgrimages to Yasukuni, a combination of economic interests, security calculations, and domestic political concerns drove leaders in Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing to forge a delicate truce," he said.

``Koizumi's successors have refrained from visiting Yasukuni; and the governments of Japan, South Korea, and China have resumed regular summits and avoided inflaming conflicts about history. This ceasefire in the `memory wars' provides an opportunity to work at constructing in a less politically charged atmosphere," he added.

Ultimately, the American stressed the need for dialogue on historical interpretation, as it would be impossible for China, Japan and Korea to agree on a common perception of history.

He said, ``The goal of a shared and non-accusatory history should not be a transnational agreement about the past. Since nations themselves are often divided about memory and professional historians will inevitably disagree about historical explanation and interpretation, a quest for historical agreement across countries is both illusory and undesirable.

``The aim instead should be to establish a `narrative equilibrium' between former adversaries," he said.

To complement the shortcomings of government-initiated dialogues, Professor Mochizuki stressed the need for Northeast Asian countries to follow in the footsteps of Europe, which has established a significant ``regional web of institutions and foundations" for history reconciliation.

He said, ``There has been some progress in this regard in Northeast Asia ― a good example is Korea's Northeast Asia History Foundation. But the institutional network remains woefully thin compared to Europe, and therefore, it would be extremely helpful if U.S. foundations and academic institutions can facilitate this process of institution-building by engaging in collaborative projects and forming partnerships with counterparts in Northeast Asia."

Mochizuki, who received his Ph.D from Harvard University, has been endowed chair in Japan-U.S. relations at the Elliot School of International Studies, George Washington University, since 1999.

He formerly served as senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; co-director, Center for Asia-Pacific Policy at RAND; and assistant professor at Yale University.

His most recent publications include ``Japan: Between Alliance and Autonomy"; ``Strategic Thinking under Bush and Koizumi: Implications for the U.S.-Japan Alliance'' and ``Terms of Engagement: the U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Rise of China."

The professor is working on two new books, ``The New Strategic Triangle: the U.S.-Japan Alliance and the Rise of China" and ``Reconciling Rivals: War, Memory and Security in Northeast Asia."
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