On Thursday last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) visited the Republic of Korea (ROK) for the first time since taking office.
China Central Television broadcast glowing reports about Xi’s invitation to South Korean President Park Geun-hye to organize a joint commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the war of resistance against Japan next year.
The two sides talked glibly about their desire to build a spiritual union of joint resistance to Japan, based on “a correct understanding of history,” but in fact, they are distorting the historical truth. This ruse can be exposed by asking one simple question: Did Korea really resist Japan?
Korea’s modern history can be compared to what happened in France during World War II.
Even though Nazi Germany occupied Paris, the government of Marshal Philippe Petain remained the legal government of France after moving its capital to Vichy.
However, Charles de Gaulle and others went to London and established the Free French Forces, which contributed to the Allies’ struggle against the Axis powers.
At first, the Free French Forces only served to make a political rallying cry and did not even amount to a government in exile. However, as the world situation changed, they eventually became recognized as the legal government of France.
In 1910, the Korean Empire, which had been a vassal state of China, signed a treaty with the Empire of Japan that merged the two empires into one.
The Korean royal family was absorbed into that of Japan. Japan was the successor state, and the Korean Peninsula became part of the Japanese empire, enjoying equal status with its other territories.
From then on, and notwithstanding the undeclared war that Japan waged on China from 1937 onward and its 1941 sneak attack on the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Korean subjects not only paid taxes to Japan, but also contributed to Japan’s Pacific War by serving in its armed forces. There were even Korean voluntary units in the Japanese military, and Koreans such as Crown Prince Euimin and Hong Sa-ik reached ranks as high as lieutenant general.
All ROK army chiefs of staff from 1948 to 1969 were former officers of the Japanese army, and the same is true of former ROK president Park Chung-hee.
Japan was the lawful government of the whole of Korea during World War II.
Considering these historical realities, what position is South Korea in to commemorate the anti-Japanese war?
Another aspect to consider is that a group of Korean nationalists set up a “Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea” in Shanghai in 1919.
On Oct. 10, 1938, the Korean Liberation Army (KLA) was set up in Wuhan, China. This force operated under the authority of the Political Training Board of China’s National Military Council, which also supplied its provisions.
In 1940, the Chinese Nationalist government based in Chongqing decided to provide assistance to the Korean provisional government and placed the KLA directly under the authority of China’s National Military Council, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) dispatched military and political officers to guide its operations.
Following World War II, the ROK established a government and set up an independent state with the US’ backing.
Considering its history of dependence on China and the US, what justification does South Korea have for its claimed tradition of anti-Japanese resistance?
South Korea is not the only place where peripheral sinocentric thinking obscures historical reality. Taiwan’s governing authorities are holding an exhibition in the Zhongshan Hall — the former Taipei city hall — to mark the anniversaries of the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident — China’s victory in its war of resistance against Japan — and Taiwan’s “retrocession” to China from Japanese colonial rule. The exhibition glorifies resistance and martyrdom, and it embodies the outlook of a victor nation. Since its real purpose is political mobilization, it cannot be expected to present a fair account of historical facts.
The historical reality is that, from 1895 onward, Taiwan was legally a territory of the Empire of Japan. Taiwanese people were imperial subjects who contributed to Japan’s war effort in the Pacific.
From a juridical point of view, Taiwanese people were all on the losing side in the Pacific War. Taiwan’s fate at the end of the war was to be cut off from Japan and occupied by the Allied forces, and its status remains undecided to this day.
Telling people to have a correct understanding of history on the one hand while stealthily distorting history on the other is just the kind of shameful behavior one can expect from hack politicians.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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