S. Korea, Japan inch closer to shared perception of history
By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, March 23 (Yonhap) -- History scholars from South Korea and Japan have wrapped up a 30-month study aimed at reconciling widely differing views of their shared past, producing one modest agreement and reconfirming that the formerly bitter rivals have a long way to go before resolving all points of contention, including Japan's colonization of Korea.
Still, the study was significant in that the two sides clearly identified their differences and provided the basis for future discussions that the neighboring nations hope will lead to a joint history textbook, South Korean researchers in the joint committee said Tuesday.
"There continue to be differences and such differences are not abnormal, but natural. I believe the most significant meaning of this research was that we tried to find the differences and bring them to light," Prof. Cho Kwang, the joint committee's Korean-side head, told a press conference.
The joint committee, the second of its kind, was launched in June 2007 after then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed to continue efforts that were initiated by their predecessors in 2001 to narrow the gap between how each country views history.
South Korea and Japan established diplomatic ties in 1965, but how they interpret their shared past, especially Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea, has often put a strain on their bilateral relations.
The most tangible result of the study was that both South Korean and Japanese researchers agreed to reject the existence of a Japanese base, previously known as "Imnailbonbu," on the Korean Peninsula from the 4th-6th century, a claim often used to justify Japan's colonization of Korea in the early 20th century.
"Such a claim has been around since the final years of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and it was sometimes described in some of Japan's history textbooks," Cho told the press conference.
"We (South Korean researchers) raised the need to review the claim that there existed a foreign territory on the Korean Peninsula and that foreigners were able to undertake massive military activities here. The researchers of both countries came to agree that the term 'Imnailbonbu' should not be used any more," he said.
The committee, consisting of 17 researchers from each country, also tried to address 23 other issues that often stir conflict but was unable to reach a consensus on all of them, according to Cho.
Prof. Cho of Seoul's Korea University said it will take much more time and effort, as well as additional research, before South Korea and Japan can publish a joint history textbook, let alone agree on the many other issues that create tension between the countries.
"It will be difficult for the countries to publish a joint history textbook in the near future, but I believe the committee has at least helped the countries enter a phase where they can start discussing what their shared views are and where they have different views," Cho said.