South Korea and Japan should seek to build confidence and forge a practical, future-oriented relationship rather than being bound to the past, political scientist Joseph Nye told The Korea Herald.
The distinguished service professor and former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School warned of the emergence of reactive nationalism among the postwar-generation Japanese.
“Both Korea and Japan have much to lose by looking backward to the 1930s. ... South Korea is a great success story in both economic and political terms. It will gain more from looking to the future than by focusing on the past,” Nye said in an email interview.
He was referring to the two countries’ continuing historical enmity stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
“Many Japanese of the younger generation believe that they are different, democratic and peaceful. They feel that they are being held accountable for the sins of their grandfathers, and this contributes to a reactive nationalism,” he said.
In addition to the festering territorial row over Korea’s easternmost islets of Dokdo, historical issues such as Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement have overshadowed the prospect of the two countries’ cooperation on security and other issues.
Diplomatic tension is expected to escalate further as security hawk Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party is likely to return to Japan’s premiership following the parliamentary elections slated for Dec. 16.
Also with the new leadership of an increasingly assertive China, uncertainty has grown over the security and political landscapes in East Asia emerging as a geostrategic fulcrum of global power and wealth.
Nye expressed concern over this in his recent opinion piece published last week in the Financial Times.
“The danger is that extreme nationalists in China and Japan will feed each other and create a climate that makes it difficult to maintain prosperity that has been so beneficial to the region and to the world,” he said.
Touching on the isolated, impoverished North Korea, Nye said it should closely look at Myanmar. The resource-rich Southeast Asian state has made strides toward democracy and reform, which the international community has praised by relaxing long-standing economic sanctions.
“North Korea should look closely at the experience of Burma where isolation proved to be very costly, but change is now proving both possible and profitable,” he said during the interview.
“In the short term, it remains important for the neighboring countries to contain any North Korean military threats. In the longer term, it will be important to open trade and personal exchange relations so that North Korea can evolve in a normal way.”
Asked about what kind of diplomacy Seoul can employ to maintain the alliance with the U.S. while not compromising the relations with its largest trade partner China, Nye indicated that economic interdependence would help ease the possible negative impact of the two powers’ growing rivalry.
“It (South Korea) needs China for economic reasons, but America for a security guarantee. Since the U.S. wants the same thing, this dilemma should not be impossible to manage,” he said.
Regarding Korea’s efforts to enhance its “soft power,” Nye painted a positive outlook. He coined the term “soft power” which is based on intangible influences such as values, ideals, norms and charms. Hard power with some coercive nature, on the contrary, is material power such as economic and military power.
“This story (Korea’s success story) contributes to the country’s soft or attractive power,” he said.
“So also does the success of popular culture. At the same time, your capacity to contribute to defense is important, and it is the combination of hard and soft power that constitutes smart power.”
As he has stated in his past writings, he reiterated that the U.S. is not in decline amid the “rise of the rest” including China.
“The rise of the rest is to be welcomed, but narrowing the gap does not mean that other countries will become more powerful than the U.S. in the coming decades,” he said.
“Even if China’s overall GDP becomes larger than that of the U.S., its per capita GDP ― a measure of the wealth and sophistication of a society ― will not equal that of the U.S. for decades. We are not about to enter a post-American world.”
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)