Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader who offered to send a special envoy to congratulate Park Geun-hye on her election victory in December. In January, Abe also said, "I will try my best to build a trustful relationship with President-elect Park as early as possible to enhance bilateral ties based on shared values.”
On Tuesday, the Japanese government announced it would set up an agency exclusively responsible for handling territorial issues, including Dokdo, "under the direct control of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Park might well wonder which Abe is the real one. Both may be the answer given the regionally-recognized duplicity of the Japanese leader.
The proposed body will reportedly deal with territorial disputes over the Senkaku (Diayou) and Kuril Islands too but is likely to focus on the Dokdo issue, at least for the time being, as 11 out of its 15 members belong to a team related with the islets controlled by Korea but claimed by both.
In short, Tokyo is about to officially upgrade the handling of the bilateral territorial row from prefectural to central governmental level, at a time when Seoul is badly prepared to mind external matters in the middle of a power transition. Park was right to courteously reject Abe’s offer of an initial congratulatory mission, although this may be the way the Japanese leader vents grudges against unresponsiveness from the other side.
Considering the historical facts that Japan had owned none of the islands in dispute until its Meiji Restoration (1853-1877), Tokyo’s latest move is nothing but efforts to replicate its 20th-century expansionism. Japan’s Asian neighbors can’t help but wonder whether if it’s willful amnesia, an incurable case of self-justification, or both, that’s gripping the Japanese people, especially their right-wing nationalist leaders.
It is hard not to compare ― once again ― the main culprit of World War II in Asia with its European counterpart, Germany. When former German Chancellor Willy Brandt apologized in front of the memorial for Jews in Warsaw, global media said, "It was one man who kneeled down, but it was the entire Germany that rose up.” If countries that take the high moral ground based on self-criticism and international perspectives can become global leaders, Tokyo seems to have a long way to go to become one, if it can at all.
The foreign ministry expressed regret and called for nullifying the decision. It was the right but hardly a sufficient move. Seoul needs to ponder how it should cope with the obsessive, unrepentant former colonizer.