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At the Crossroads: Can South Korea Survive Without Japan? 

Archie Miyamoto





On July 3, 2019, Japan halted the unrestricted export to South Korea of three high-tech materials essential for the production of semiconductors and display panels. This will impact severely on Korean makers.


Japan also plans to remove South Korea from the white list of countries extended preferential export treatment. This could affect over a thousand other items.


To understand why this is taking place, it is necessary to go back in time over 100 years.



The Background of Korea-Japan Relations


In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan in a mutual Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty. The Japanese call it a benevolent unification, Koreans refer to the period as the most brutal colonization in history.


Whether Korea was “annexed” or “colonized” by Japan, it was not an equal unification of two countries. And the fact that there was no military invasion and that the royal family of Korea became members of Japan’s royal family does not make it less so — Japan controlled Korea.


Call it what you will, but there are a number of contradictions and unsubstantiated allegations in the Korean version of this period. The Korean version of history has caused hate and resentment by Koreans against Japan, which are the root causes of the present crisis.



Evidence of Acceptance and Respect for Koreans


Japan’s treatment of Koreans differed from how European nations governed their colonies. Japan’s policy was to unite Korea with Japan as one nation, even to the extent of encouraging Koreans to assume Japanese names, doing away with the distinction between the two races. Koreans consider this to be genocide.


A glaring difference from European powers was that a significant number of Koreans became officers in the Imperial Japanese Army. Seven were general officers. In no Western nation has any individual from a colony risen to the rank of general and commanded troops of the occupying power.  


One of the Koreans was Hong Sa-ik, a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army. He entered the Imperial Japanese Military Academy soon after annexation and graduated as a lieutenant in 1914. He commanded a Japanese brigade in China as a major general and was promoted to lieutenant general in the Philippines.


There were four Korean lieutenant  generals and three major generals who were Korean. Some sources say there were nine Korean generals. There were many Imperial Army officers of lesser rank who were Koreans. A number of them later held high positions in the South Korean government and military.


The first 10 chiefs of staff of the South Korean Army were former Japanese officers. Others include former President Park Chung-hee; Prime Minister Chung Il-kwon (1964-1970); Provost Marshal General (later defense minister) Won Yong-dok; and South Korean generals Park Sun-yup and Kim Suk-won. There were many others.


Whether Koreans who served in Japan’s military were or were not traitors or collaborators is not the point. The fact is, immediately after annexing Korea, Japan was accepting Koreans into its armed forces as officers commanding Japanese troops.



Sand Beneath the Comfort Women Story


This is hardly the treatment of a brutalized colony.


Yet, Koreans believe that 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were abducted by this same Army as sex slaves. How could this be possible? Collaborators or not, these Korean officers were outstanding men.


In addition, there were thousands of Koreans serving in the Imperial Japanese Army. For Japan to abduct Korean women as sex slaves would have been the height of stupidity, inviting mutiny and even civil war.


No Korean would remain silent when their young women were being abducted as sex slaves. Koreans are not cowards.


As a matter of fact, other than the uncorroborated statements of former comfort women, there is not a single documented case of forced recruitment by the Japanese of Korean comfort women.     


In the last few years, a number of books have been published in English, citing primary source evidence, refuting earlier books on the subject vilifying Japan. For those interested, the most comprehensive book on Japan’s comfort women system is Comfort Women and Sex in the Battle Zone by Dr. Hata Ikuhiko of Japan (Hamilton Books, 2018). The book was originally published in Japanese in 1999. It was updated and translated into English by Dr. Jason M. Morgan in 2018.


This is a comprehensive book providing exhaustive details about the comfort women system and the controversies surrounding this issue. No serious commentator on the comfort women issue should be without this book. It is available on Amazon.



Treaties and Agreements Between Korea and Japan


All claims by the Republic of Korea (South Korea) against Japan were settled between the two countries in 1965 with the signing of the “Treaty of Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea.”  South Korea and Japan confirmed that the problem concerning people’s rights and the interests of the two contracting partners and their people and claims between the two have been settled “completely and finally.”


South Korea agreed to demand no further compensation, either at the government or individual level. There was further agreement that any future issue would be referred for arbitration.


In 1977, and again in 1983, Seiji Yoshida wrote a fictional account of himself as a Japanese soldier being involved in the rounding up of comfort women in Korea. This was accepted as gospel and his account added great momentum to the South Korean attack against Japan.


By the time the truth emerged that the account was fictional, the damage had been done. It had been published by a major Japanese newspaper and not only Koreans, but Americans, and even the United Nations were taken in. Some say the Kono Statement by then-chief Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono formally admitting to forced recruitment of Korean comfort women resulted from Yoshida’s fictitious account. Many Koreans still accept Yoshida’s account as factual.


Since all issues had been settled in the 1965 Agreement, in 1995, Japan set up the Asian Women’s Fund, a government sponsored civilian-operated funding campaign to provide funds to former comfort women. About $5 million USD was donated by the Japanese citizens and $40 million USD by the government of Japan.


This failed to settle matters and, in 2015, Japan and South Korea reached a formal agreement resolving the matter “finally and irreversibly.”


Recently, the President of South Korea arbitrarily decided to revoke this treaty.  



Fool me once… fool me twice…  fool me thrice….


Aside from the comfort women issue, South Koreans have been clamoring for settlement of payments to laborers mobilized during WWII to work in Japan’s factories.


This issue had been settled between Japan and the Republic of Korea in the 1965 treaty. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court of South Korea ruled that nation-to-nation international agreements have no legal impact on claims by individual citizens and ruled in favor of Korean citizens suing Japanese companies for reparations.


Japan ignored the ruling and the government of the Republic of Korea has allowed South Korean individuals with grievances to seize the assets of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp., and Nippon Steel.


Japan has asked that the matter be referred for arbitration, as stipulated in the 1965 Agreement. South Korea, however, refuses arbitration and refuses to halt the seizure of Japanese assets.


South Korea has proposed another country-to-country agreement, but Japan refuses to take the bait. Japan considers any treaty with South Korea as worthless. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me thrice….  



Falsified History Fostering Resentment and Hatred


With the seizure of assets of Japanese firms in South Korea, Japan’s patience has run out. The immediate problem is for South Korea to resolve this issue before its high-tech industries, which rely heavily on Japan, are forced to cease operating.


Emotional outbursts and boycotting Japanese goods will only make matters worse. Other restrictions by Japan will soon follow. 


South Korea will encounter serious economic problems if it isolates itself from Japan. Japan too will suffer, but Japan can survive without Korea.    


The basic cause of these issues is the Korean culture of fostering hate and resentment against Japan. Seoul has refused to accept Japan’s hand of friendship which has been extended since South Korea came into being.


Without Japan’s past economic assistance, South Korea would not be where it is today. Without Japan’s future assistance, can South Korea survive? Two nations, so close in so many ways and yet so distant!  


There is a saying, “Any nation that falsifies its history is doomed!” Will South Korea be next?’



Author: Archie Miyamoto, Lt Col, US Army, Ret



Archie Miyamoto is a retired U.S. Army officer. During the Korean War he became a career U.S. Army infantry officer and served two tours each in Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan, and a special tour in Germany. Military awards include three Legion of Merits, two Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze star, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Master Aviator Wings. He was also a paratrooper and Tactical Nuclear Weapons Employment Specialist. He is a recipient of Army Aviator Wings from the Republic of China and the Hwa Rang medal from South Korea. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska (Omaha), and has a Master's degree from Troy University, Alabama. He is also a graduate of the Army Aviation School and the Command and General Staff College. After retirement from the Army he spent two years in Israel, after which he joined a Japanese corporation (Maruzen of America) in California and became its President/Chairman. He is retired and resides in California. His detailed account of the Gripsholm exchanges was distributed to former passengers but never published. He is the author of the book, WWII Military Records on Comfort Women (2017, Amazon Digital Services LLC).