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In Session: Democratization, Nationalism, and Reconciliation in East Asia: Challenges to Reconciliation Study
4: Is Democracy a Catalyst for Reconciliation?: Democratization of South Korea and Its Reconciliation with Japan
Friday, March 26, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Seoul National University, Republic of Korea
Bilateral state-relations between Japan and ROK have inspired democratic movement in Korea, while democratizing movement in South Korea has been connected with anti-Japanese nationalism. For example, when the Park Chun-hee administration emerged through the 1961 coup d’etat and sought normalization with Japan in 1964, opposition parties and students saw this as a betrayal and humiliation of Korean causes and intensified their fight against the government. After President Park’s death, another type of democratizing movement evolved into a nationalism movement against the brutal oppression of a popular uprising in Gwangju, gathering strength when a new military regime assumed power. This provided the background to the growth of nationalism through democratic revolution in 1987. It also paved the way toward the 1998 ROK-Japan Joint Declaration between President Kim Daejung, the most prominent victim of authoritarianism who symbolized the democratizing movement, and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi of Japan, who offered an official apology and reflection over Japan’s colonial control of Korea. The Declaration was a culmination of the Korea-Japan transnational civil movement that began in the late 1970s. It marked a great progress in bilateral relations, demonstrating a shared commitment to democracy and pacifism. This development was aided by the history of solidarity between the Korean pro-democracy advocates and Japanese activists, who opposed the Vietnam War believing they were victims of authoritarianism and the Cold War. Through an examination of the ROK-Japan Joint Declaration, this paper highlights the importance of the ROK-Japan solidarity movement, a hidden element of the history of ROK-Japan reconciliation.