South Korea and Japan's Frictions over History: A Linguistic Constructivist Reading*

By Yang, Kiwoong | Asian Perspective, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

South Korea and Japan's Frictions over History: A Linguistic Constructivist Reading*


Yang, Kiwoong, Asian Perspective


This article looks at the characteristics of "frictions over history" in ROK-Japan relations since the 1990s, with a focus on Korea's responses. It addresses some hypotheses on the characteristics and trends shown in the political process of "blundering" through comparative analysis of sixty-one cases, and additionally presents an in-depth case study on Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's remarks of 2007 concerning the comfort women issue. This research shows that the responses to blunders and the political process were the products of interactions between the agent's speech acts and are a type of language game that is linguistically inter-constituted. Moreover, the 2007 comfort women case study shows that conflicts and the process of negotiations regarding blunders are a type of constructive language game in which the agents construct rules of engagement, modify mutual perceptions, and transform actors themselves through a series of speech acts.

Key words: South Korea-Japan relations, East Asian politics

Introduction

This research looks at the characteristics of "frictions over history" as they appear in South Korea-Japan relations since the 1990s, with a focus on Korea's responses. This article analyzes the characteristics and trends shown in the political process of blundering through comparative analysis and additionally presents an in-depth case study on Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's 2007 remarks on the comfort women issue to prove that the political process of blundering is the product of interactions between blunders and responses and is a type of language game that is linguistically inter-constituted.

Since 1990, approximately sixty cases of friction between the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) and Japan over history were reported in the South Korean media. In South Korea, distorted historical remarks given by Japanese cabinet members and at times by politicians are called blunders. Most of the frictions over history are developed in part by Japanese politicians through remarks that trigger a response from South Korea.

Frictions or disputes over issues of history-the comfort women, distortions of Japanese history textbooks, the territorial dispute over Dokdo (Takeshima in Japanese), Yasukuni Shrine visits, and the war of aggression and colonial occupation of Korea by Japan-have been significant not only for ROK-Japan relations but also for Northeast Asia as well. The intermittent but often repeated "distorted remarks and actions regarding history" (so-called "blunders") by Japan's prime ministers, cabinet members, and leading politicians have hindered progress in ROK-Japan relations as well as Sino-Japanese relations. They have become a significant source of conflict within the ROKJapan relationship and Northeast Asian politics.

Japan's blunders since the postwar period are numerous. In 1951, then-Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru remarked that "Because minority immigrants are like parasites in the stomach, Japan's goal in ROK-Japanese Conference is to avoid these." In October of 1953, one of Japan's representatives during the ROK-Japanese Conference blundered that "Japan's colonial occupation contributed to Korea's welfare and Japan does not feel guilty because we did them a favor." Since then, Japan's prime ministers, cabinet members, and politicians have repeatedly remarked or blundered about distorted history and after each occurrence, ROKJapan relations have gone through a process of rapid deterioration before gradual restoration. Northeast Asia's frictions over history are not just simple academic polemics. They are "heated international politics" in and of themselves. In this region, frictions over history make pursuit of regional benefits in security and economic cooperation difficult.

Perspectives on Historical Friction Remarks

The issue of conflicts over historical memory or so-called "blunders" in Northeast Asia has been debated and researched exclusively by historians or journalists. …

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