Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok early in September (“Abe urges Putin to fulfill ‘historical duty’ and sign treaty” in the Sept. 6 edition), seeking a resolution to the dispute over the four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

“We have a historical duty to sign a peace treaty,” Abe entreated. “Let’s fulfill our responsibility to history. Let’s sign a peace treaty and set free the unlimited potential of our people.”

You don’t have to be a South Korean patriot to see the irony lodged in Abe’s statement. His understanding of “historical duty” never seems to extend to the history of Korea under Japanese rule.

What if Abe, visiting Seoul in the future, were to say: “We have a historical duty to resolve our differences, going back to the unfortunate and unforgivable colonization of Korea. Let’s fulfill our responsibility to history. Let’s write a new chapter and set free the unlimited potential of our people.” A cascade of benefits would follow.

Free trade could resume. Vital security agreements could be restored. Tourism and cultural exchange could grow. And justice could be achieved with regard to the exploitation of Korean men and women by Japanese corporations and military authorities.

Japan has incurred a debt to Korea that needs to be paid. The total sum of the debt requires a full accounting.

Payment of the debt will bring about not only regional stability and prosperity; a range of benefits would accrue to both sides.

Koreans would regain lost dignity, and again be able to enjoy Kirin beer and Lexus cars. Japanese would be able to stand taller in the world, and their country’s dream of a permanent U.N. Security Council seat might seem less of a pie-in-the-sky fantasy.


The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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