Korea-Japan Alliance? History Shows This US-proposed Partnership Is Unlikely


The December 28, 2015 announcement of an agreement by the foreign ministries of both countries, Japan and Republic of Korea (ROK) was followed by a deeply disappointed response among all layers of South Korean society. There have been strong calls for its nullification, and  many groups have denounced action by the Geun-hye Park regime.

The issue deals with the so-called “comfort women,” the elderly survivors of forced military sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army.  The systematic enslavement of an estimated 200,000 women, 80 percent of whom were Korean, was perpetrated before and during the World War II. Japan has never formally apologized for this war crime, and has not permanently memorialized the despicable history.

The recent agreement indicates that the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe accepts the historical fact of its occurrence, and will pay a relatively small amount of money to the Korean government for its use to fund a way to settle this issue in South Korean society.

Most importantly, South Korea is to regard the agreement as a final and irreversible settlement of the issue, and the end of the matter between the two countries.

Further, the agreement contains no formal admittance of the crime, it does not contain any official apology from the government, and it does not allow for any permanent historical memorials or education about this chapter in history.   These three demands have been key features of the demands of the former comfort women’s human rights campaign since it emerged in the early 1990s.

The aspect of formal apology, acknowledgment, and remembrance of the history was also a key feature of the process Germany went through in dealing with its history of the Nazi Holocaust. The Holocaust Memorial is a permanent public acknowledgment of its perpetration of genocide and other war crimes against the Jewish population.

It goes without saying that this hasty agreement definitely favors Abe and Japan. This issue, which touches so profoundly the hearts of all Koreans both in South, North and overseas, was settled with this agreement as a result of the incessant pressure from the U.S. on the Geun-hye Park administration. The U.S. wishes to achieve a tri-party military alliance between the Japan, ROK and itself, against China, a part of so called “Asia Pivot Policy” of Obama. Naturally, the agreement was hailed immediately by John Kerry of the State Department and Susan Rice of the White House.

This agreement reveals the sad and almost ridiculous level of ignorance of the Obama administration’s U.S. foreign policy people about the true nature of the relationship between Japan and Korea. There are profound differences between the two countries in the areas of ethnic, cultural, religious, and historical perspectives going back 3,000 years!

As a matter of fact, this agreement, forced on the ROK, will make the gap in the relationship between Japan and Korea even deeper and wider, and will thus negatively affect the future of the planned alliance between the two countries.

At one geographic point, Korea and Japan are physically separated by only 60 miles of ocean.  Superficially, they may seem ethnically and culturally similar to outsiders, especially to casual western observers.

In ancient times, there was a significant migration of people from ancient Korea to Japan, mostly intellectuals, carrying with them advanced continental cultures, arts, religion, civilization, science, and legal system. There is some evidence that the forebears of Japan’s current emperor were from among this population of migrating Korean nobility.

This flow of continental civilization to Japan was largely through the Korean peninsula. Until roughly 200 years ago, the Korean dynasty regularly sent large official delegations to Japan to convey the most recent advanced knowledge to Japan.

This one-way flow of civilization over thousands of years has implanted a sort of superiority complex in generations of Korean minds when they look upon the people and country of Japan. This, of course, changed and the roles were reversed beginning in the 19th century, when Japan rapidly westernized.

During the same era, the end of Korea’s last dynasty, the Lee dynasty, Korea lagged behind Japan militarily and technologically.  Finally, Korea was colonized by Japan in 1910, to the great dismay and surprise of the Korean people.

The experience of being colonized was an awakening for Korea, and contributed greatly to the subsequent rise and metamorphosis of Korea after World War II and the Korean War. To this day, there is a silent pledge among Koreans in both North and South to never allow Japanese boots on Korean soil again.

From the point of view of the Japanese, the image of Korea in Japanese mind, in spite of the one way flow of advanced culture and civilization from across the straits, over thousands of years, was never a, one of respect or awe.  Japan treated Korea as the neighbor to invade, to steal from and dominate, and Korea was also a stepping stone on the way to invading China and its civilization.

The Japanese perception of Korea, of course, became even worse at the close of the Lee Dynasty, when Korea lagged behind Japan in its process of westernization.


During the last 500 years, there were almost incessant small scale attacks by Japanese roaming pirates on Korean villages located on its eastern seashore. These were not a large-scale organized attacks, but they required constant vigilance by the Korean authorities to fend off these pirates.

However, there were two major Japanese invasions of the Korean peninsula during this period (1592-1598), that no Koreans will ever neither forget nor forgive.

The first attack was a campaign by Japan to invade the Chinese mainland by way of the peninsula; a massive flotilla of the Japanese military, launched a well-planned and organized attack on Korea and moved up the north toward its Chinese border.  As it marched north, the Japanese army utterly devastated the country, although the Korean people tried their best to fight against the unexpected and merciless invaders.

Fortunately however, Korea had a strong navy led by a genius admiral, Sun-shin Yi.  Yi effectively blocked the Japanese supply route which eventually led to their defeat and withdrawal.

A few years later, while the Korea was not yet fully recovered from this shocking national disaster, another Japanese invading flotilla, equally massive and well equipped, again landed and moved up the peninsula, this time however it intended to exploit the country of Korea rather than passing through to its destination towards China.

The passage of the Japanese army left devastation, indiscriminate civilian killing, raping of women of all ages, burning of cultural landmarks, destruction of the arts and the temples.

During this time, artisans, skilled workers, and useful intellectuals were forcibly drafted and shipped to Japan. Japanese soldiers were rewarded for their killing of Korean civilians and to document their success, they collected and preserved the ears cut from their Korean victims to be sent to Japan in exchange for reward.

To this date there are graves in Japan containing these Korean ears, they call them mimi tsuka or ear tomb.

According to Korean custom, a woman who was raped could never re-enter normal family life, but in this case there were so many of them that after the war, the king issued a special edict that the violated women could cleanse themselves from the shame of rape by bathing in certain rivers.

Finally again, the remnants of the Korean navy, again led by the same genius admiral, defeated the Japanese navy, choking off their supply line, thus forcing the retreat of the invaders. In the process, Admiral Sun-shin Lee, gave his life.

In 1910, after a series of military episodes, political maneuvers, and the Japanese murder of a popular Korean queen, the Japanese formally annexed Korea. This began 36 years of colonial rule by the Japanese, whose harshness in dealing of the Korean people had no precedent.

In their own land, Koreans were discriminated against in almost every aspect of their lives, they were forced to change their names to Japanese names, forced to learn and use only the Japanese language, and forced to use the Japanese religion Shintoism, which included forced worship of Japan’s emperor.

Additionally, large numbers of Koreans were drafted into forced war time labor and taken to Japan, where they were made to work long hours in dangerous work conditions.  In addition to all this is the military sexual enslavement of the so-called comfort women, whose numbers are estimated to be 200,000!

Colonial rule under the Japanese came to an end on August 15, 1945, when World War II ended with the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allied Forces, which of course includes Russia and U.S.  Both nations sent troops to the peninsula to disarm the Japanese and ship them back to their archipelago.

This was followed alas, by the division of Korea, which was initially a Russian-controlled North and a U.S.-controlled South.  Koreans, of course, blame the Japanese for the division of their land. The rest of the sad history of Korea is one of enmity between brothers and sisters of the South and North for the past 70 years.

In spite of the superficial and ostensive similarities, there are a few fundamental and significant differences between the Koreans and Japanese.  The one area is their religion; Korea has had Buddhism as its national religion for over a thousand years.

It of course came by way of China but directly influenced by its origin in India, in terms of the principle, practice of worship, writings, even the architecture of the temples.  Over the last 300 years, however, Confucian teaching came from China, and although it is not a religion, its belief system was superimposed on the Korean culture, traditions and customs.

Therefore, Koreans have reverence for life, respect and eagerness to follow the social order based on scholastic and academic achievement and respect for age and family tradition.

The Japanese also have Buddhism, but also a strong attachment to Shintoism on which their emperor system is rooted.  This system of rule is more or less based on an ancient imaginative story about Japanese ethnic origin. It places honor before the reverence for life, imposes a strict cast system, and puts respect for power and strength over literary achievement. Lastly, it attaches a sense of ethnic purity and superiority to being Japanese.

This is where the Japanese Samurai spirit, and the tradition of hara-kiri originates, which in modern times has been emerged in Japanese militarism, an emphasis on the power of aggression.

This ethnic and national trait went very well with the western colonialism and hegemony-based expansion of European powers in the last two centuries. There was consideration among Japanese elites at one point an idea to ideologically remove themselves from the Asian frame of mind and consider themselves as part of European culture.

This to a large extent explains the existence of a mutual disdain between Koreans and Japanese,  although in many respects the two nations also respect each other. This also explains in part the overt discrimination by the Japanese against more than 1.5 million Korean residents in Japan.

Most of these residents (or their previous generation) were forcibly removed from Korea to Japan during World War II as forced laborers. It also explains Japanese indifference to their responsibilities for the system of military sexual slavery, and for their accountability today for justice for the former comfort women.

In conclusion, therefore, it is unconscionable even to think of the possibilities of a military alliance between these two countries against a third country, China, and especially against North Korea, which in the minds of all Koreans, are part of their own people.

=The End=

“Korean Quarterly” Winter, 2016, (Vol.19, NUM 02)

Moon J. Pak, MD/PhD, is a physician practicing in the Detroit area. He is also the senior vice-president of the Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC)

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One Reply to “Korea-Japan Alliance? History Shows This US-proposed Partnership Is Unlikely”

  1. Your prediction that “US-PROPOSED PARTNERSHIP between Korea/Japan alliance is unlikely” does not ring the bell at all to me…The title of the article,”US-PROPOSED PARTNERSHIP” SHOULD BE REDRESSED AS IF “US-ORDERED MILITARY ALLIANCE”. And there is no way to go against the “US ORDER” FOR THE VASSAL STATES LIKE JAPAN AND SOUTH KOREA.(The title should be redressed “South Korea-Japan Alliance?” instead of “Korea-Japan Alliance?”…S. Korea does not entertain exclusively/arbitrarily Korea Domain)
    It’s not an exaggeration at all to compare these nations (Uncle Sam/Samurai/Chosenjin) with a family of Mafioso…Uncle Sam (Boss) has two feuding Capos (Samurai/Chosenjin) getting into the bed and copulate…
    Voila! they’d become a perfect/amiable couple…as if bride’s father and groom’s grand father got together and hollered ‘banzai’ during the colonial era.
    I’d bet my precious ass about the Jap-S. Korean treasonous collaboration in near future.
    How much do you bet? Dr. Pak, MoonJ?

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