Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

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17.1 visual essay



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  »  Issues Contents  2011-01-20 On Paik Nak-chung’s views regarding the unification of Korea


On Paik Nak-chung’s views regarding the unification of Korea: from a Japanese perspective
SAKAMOTO Yoshikazu
The postwar Japanese did not take the issue of decolonization squarely as, in their view, they simply handed over Korea to the Allied Powers which divided the peninsula into the South and the North. Paik Nak-chung made the innovative observation that the ruling elites and hawks of South and North Koreas have consolidated the complex political structure in which they combine mutual antagonism with the symbiotic interdependence in using the tension for the legitimation and fortification of their privileges within each territory. But we Japanese must remember that this division of Korea had been rooted in Japan’s colonial rule that divided the Korean nation into collaborators and resisters, of whom the former were kept in power by Rhee Syng-Man due to the shortage of bureaucratic personnel. Then, the bloody division, i.e. the Korean War, was an economic windfall for postwar Japan which enabled it to embark on high economic growth. The diplomatic normalization with militarized South Korea in 1965 was intended by the Japanese conservative party to use its neighbor as an anti-communist bulwark and a source of the ‘rebate’ through collusion at the expense of the people struggling for democratization. In contrast, Paik’s idea of Korean unification ‘from below’ calls for the people’s participation in the form of the process of democratic social transformation of their everyday lives. Paik’s idea has two further important implications. First, the popular unification of Korea will promote the opening of East Asian nations, including the mentally closed Japanese. Second, the respective economic development of the South and the North based on empowered civil society will possibly give birth to a new world-systemic paradigm which transcends the neo-liberal ideology. Finally, we Japanese should be aware that the problem of division concerns not only Korea but also Japan in its specific form in regard to the relationship between the mainland and Okinawa.
Keywords: division structure, democratic unification, Japan’s responsibility, world system
Author’s biography
Sakamoto Yoshikazu坂本義和 is Professor Emeritus of Tokyo University and Advisor of ICU Peace Research Institute. His main publications include The Nuclear Age as Modernity (ed.), 2 vols., 1999 (in Japanese), The Age of Relativization, 1997 (in Japanese); Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System (ed.) 1994 (English) and many others.

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