China to Japan: You visit war shrine? I immortalize a Korean assassin
Japan on Monday protested against a Chinese memorial built to commemorate a Korean independence activist who assassinated prominent Japanese statesman Hirobumi Ito in 1909, branding him as a terrorist and saying that the move did not help repair deteriorating ties between both countries. Ito was a samurai of Choshu domain before the 1868 Meiji Restoration in Japan which created a modern Japanese state. He was a four time Prime Minister of Japan (the 1st, 5th, 7th and 10th), and the Resident-General of Korea. Ahn Jung-geun shot and killed him at a railway station in the northeast Chinese city of Harbin.
As Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito was responsible for the rapid modernization of Japan. During his second term, he went to war with China (First Sino-Japanese War) and shifted the geopolitical axis in East Asia to Japan. In November 1905, following the Russo-Japanese War, the defeated Russia recognized Japanese influence in Korea. Ito then became the first Resident-General of Korea, where he forced Korean Emperor Gojong to abdicate and secured the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty of 1907, giving Japan the authorities to control Korea’s internal affairs.
Ito argued that the 3 East Asian states (China, Japan and Korea) should cooperate with each other to avoid falling to the victims of Western imperialism. The Koreans believed these claims and agreed to help the Japanese military, but their opinion soon turned against Japan over Japanese actions, including confiscation of lands, drafting civilians for forced labor, and executing those that resisted. Ironically, his assassin, Ahn Jung-geun, shared his opinion in a union of the three East Asian nations in order to counter and fight off the “White Peril”. Ahn was executed in 1910, the year Japan formally annexed Korea, heralding an occupation period that lasted until the end of the second world war in 1945.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Monday that Japan would protest the move through diplomatic channels. “The coordinated move by China and South Korea based on a one-sided view [of history] is not conducive to building peace and stability in East Asia,” Suga said. “The move is truly regrettable as we had made our stance and our concerns clear to the Chinese and South Korean governments. We recognize Ahn Jung-geun as a terrorist who was sentenced to death for killing our countrys first prime minister,” Suga added.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Ahn was well respected in China and that it was totally proper to set up a memorial. “We cannot accept this so-called protest,” Hong told a daily news briefing. “We demand Japan earnestly face up to history and reflect on it.” Political relations between China, Japan and South Korea - Asia’s first, second and fourth-largest economies - are heavily colored by 20th-century history, when Tokyos imperial forces rampaged across the region.
China’s ties with Japan have deteriorated over the last year due to a row over a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea, China’s setting up of an air defense identification zone and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are honored along with war dead. Relationship between South Korea and Japan has also been worsening over many disputes, including the territorial claims on Liancourt Rocks, the visits to Yasukuni Shrine, and differing views on history of Imperial Japan, including comfort women during the period when Korea was under Japanese rule.
According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, South Korea, along with China, have the most negative perception of Japan in the world. Even with the rapid build-up of the Chinese military, the Koreans refused to join in the U.S.-Japan political alliance against China, as South Koreans specifically view Japan with greater hostility than they do for China. For example, Chinese President Xi Jinping has approval ratings in South Korea more than triple those of Japan’s Shinzo Abe.
China seeks better relation with South Korea as negative perception of Japan increases in that country
Seoul is naturally pleased. South Korea’s foreign ministry on Monday welcomed the opening, adding that Ahn was “a widely respected figure in both South Korea and China” and describing the assassination as a “courageous act”. Chinese and South Korean officials together hailed the memorial to Ahn and contended that it was intended not to provoke a diplomatic row, but rather to promote peace. “Today we erect a memorial to him and call on peace-loving people around the world to unite, resist invasions and oppose war,” Sun Yao, the vice governor of Chinas Heilongjiang province, said.
Ahn is one of South Korea’s most celebrated independence hero. Every schoolchildren in South Korea learn his story from an early age, and he has been the subject of movies, books, even musicals. There are numerous statues and memorials to him across the country. “Ahn Jung-Geun is a very famous anti-Japanese fighter in history,” Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. “He is respected by the Chinese people as well.”
“We have been telling the South Korean government that Ahn Jung-Geun was a criminal,” Japan’s Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told reporters. “I’m afraid this is not good for relations between Japan and South Korea.” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-Young fired back with a defence of Ahn. “Martyr Ahn sacrificed his life not for the country’s independence but regional peace as well,” Cho said. Repeating the statement of his Chinese counterpart, Cho said, “it is highly regretful to call such a person a criminal. We again strongly urge Japan to face truth in history and repent on its past wrongs.”