ICAS Special Contribution


Korea- Japan - US Value Alliance

Jin-hyun Kim

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic sketch & links: Jin-hyun Kim

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this paper to ICAS. by Jin-hyun Kim sjk]

Korea- Japan - US Value Alliance

Jin-hyun Kim
Chairman, World Peace Forum / Advisor, East Sea Society

East Sea Workshop
SAIS, Washington D.C.
June 12, 2014

I have not taken this stage today for the purpose of censuring Japan in front of my American friends. The subtitle of my 2006 book, The Story I faithfully talk to the friends in Japan is Building a Korea-Japan Common House. This illustrates my belief that Korea and Japan should join forces and take the initiative in building a more advanced civil society and establishing peace in the Asia-Pacific region, befitting the trend of the Earth Village in the 21st century. Korea and Japan have much common ground as two neighboring countries that have been mutually influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism and succeeded in modernization despite their absolute shortage of life resources(energy and food). Korea and Japan are the only advanced nations in the non-Western world, currently populated by some six billion people, to have achieved modernization, which is deemed the product of human evolution. Though differences may be found to a certain extent, depending on the standards of measurement, Korea and Japan are the only non-Western nations that have achieved modernization in terms of economic growth, political democracy, civil liberty, the advancement of education and science, and social diversity.

As such, the two nations share a duty to develop this world into a democratic civil society that upholds the values of freedom, equality, well-being, and diversity; to advance sustainable development; and to expedite the forward march of civilization for future generations in close cooperation with the US. The US has provided substantial support and benefits to Korea and Japan across the areas of education, culture, national security, the economy, and technology throughout their modernization process. The modernization of Korea and Japan in the late 20th century was made possible through the existence of the solid foundation of peace in the Asia-Pacific region built by the US. Thanks to support from the US, I myself was given the opportunity to delve into the economic development plans of developed and underdeveloped nations in the 1960s; to widen my horizons by taking part in a series of international seminars and conferences; and to study at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow. For these reasons, I have decided to give back to the US community in diverse ways after my retirement.

Korea has become a de facto Christian country. It was the only non-Western, non-Caucasian country in the third world, strongly influenced by indigenous religions, to now have over 30% of its population and over 60% of its power elite group identifying as Christian. More surprisingly, second only to the US, Korea has the largest number of active Christian missionaries around the world. The US ranks first with 60,000 missionaries, but this number continues to dwindle year by year. On the contrary, Korea's total number of 25,000 missionaries continues to grow. Korea now outranks Western Christian countries such as the UK, Canada, Spain, France, and Italy. Korean missionaries are now active overseas such areas as Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East(including Afghanistan), Southeast Asia, the North and South Americas, even China and Russia. This fact alone demonstrates the passion of the 15 million Christians in Korea, equivalent to 30% of the nation's population of 50 million.

It would be hard for the US to find a better partner than Korea to seek a value alliance in Asia. Japan embraced Christianity 200 years earlier than Korea, through the work of Spanish missionaries, with nearly 80% of the Kyushu population following Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries and as high as 5% of the entire Japanese population converting to Christianity during the Allied occupation of Japan led by General Douglas McArthur from 1945 to 1952. However, the number hovers at a mere 2.5% today. A lesser known fact is that Korea has 103 Catholic saints and that 200 more will be beatified during the visit of Pope Francis scheduled for August. Korea ranks fourth, after Italy, France, and Spain, all of which are Western countries, in terms of the number of Catholic saints. The number of Catholics in Korea currently stands at about five million. This in itself is a miracle, and this miracle was not initiated by Western missionaries. It was made possible by self-motivated local Catholics, who voluntarily embraced the religion in the 18th century and marked a milestone in the Catholic Church by sending a request to the Vatican to dispatch priests. Such efforts of self-driven believers led to the birth of 103 saints, who suffered martyrdom under the then government's oppressive policy of national seclusion until a century later when the freedom of faith was finally achieved. These martyrs served as the link between the Western world and Korea.

Also, Japan was the foe of Korea's modern nationalists fighting for independence against colonial imperialism. For this reason, Korea distinctly stood apart from other third world nations at the time in terms of embracing Western modernism. After the late 19th century, in particular, Koreans welcomed the support of US missionaries who opposed the Japanese invasion of Korea. All in all, Korea can be said to have been the least opposed to Western modernism among third world countries. No modern nationalist leaders in Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries were Christians, except in Korea. Almost all anti- Japan and national independence movement leaders in Korea were devout Christians. Rhee Syngman, who became the first president of the Republic of Korea in 1948, also served as the first president of the provisional government set up in Shanghai in 1919. In his interview with a US media right after his inauguration in April 1919, Rhee overtly stated that the goal of the Korean independence movement leaders was to build 'Asia's first Christian state'. Rhee had a strong backing of Christians in the US while fighting against the Japanese colonial government and was also locally supported by Christian churches in Korea.

I myself am not a Christian. However, I am highlighting the relationship between Christianity and Korea's modernization and the modernization process unique to Korea with the hope of guiding you to see Korea-US relations not only from the perspectives of geopolitics and economic determinism but also in the historical, cultural, and even religious context.

In 1945, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh wrote to President Harry Truman that the independent state of Vietnam wished to become a member of a greater American commonwealth. The US was deemed an ideal value alliance partner, equipped with moral values and political legitimacy, by Asian anti-imperialist nationalist leaders in the early 20th century, especially by Rhee Syngman and Ho Chi Minh. The two leaders' countries shared a history of being oppressed by China and Japan. As you know, my name is Kim Jin- hyun. However, I was deprived of the right to use my own name and was called Kane Shiro Chin Ken in the Japanese style from 1941 to 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation. Have any of you been forbidden to use your own name? Such an atrocity of taking away an individual's name and language has been unheard of in the history of Western imperialism. The American dreams and modernity brought by Christianity and Wilsonian international humanism were like torches of liberation for Koreans suffering under Japanese colonial rule.

Today, Asia's crisis risk is increasing due to the fierce rivalry between rising China and declining Japan. We Koreans sincerely hope that Japan will grow into a true civil society and normal democratic state in collaboration with the US and that it will join hands with us Koreans to realize the concept of a common house, through which Korea and Japan can peacefully strive for mutual development.

To this end, as Henry Kissinger once pointed out, the US must work hard to learn about the past footsteps of other countries. As Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit wrote, Japan should learn to come to terms with the past to become a "normal country" as Germany has. As Joseph Nye stressed, it is essential to accurately identify the lessons from the many invasions that took place in Asia to prevent another tragedy stemming from self-defeatism and self-destruction. Korea is unique in that it experienced many invasions in the past but never conducted an invasion of another country's territory on its own. The Declaration of Independence of the 1919 Independence Movement on March 1, 1919, which was Asia's first nationwide civil independence movement, earnestly admonishes Japan as follows:

"Today, Korean independence will mean not only daily life and happiness for us, but also it would mean Japan's departure from an evil way and its exaltation to the place of true protector of the East, so that China, too, even in her dreams, would put all fear of Japan aside. This thought comes from no mere feeling of resentment, but from a large hope for the future welfare and blessing of mankind."

The Declaration emphasizes that Korea's independence struggle was not triggered by mere hostility toward Japan and was rather intended to help Japan break free from an evil path. It is difficult to find an independence movement document from the third world that views the object of its resistance as needing awakening and enlightenment, instead of blindly crying out for its overthrow in an eruption of fury. Korea's Declaration of Independence of the March 1st Movement is truly a rare example.

I believe no historical advancement comes free of charge, as 'freedom is not free'. Japan did not properly pay for its wartime atrocities after the end of World War II, benefited by the start of the Cold War Era and tragedy of Korean war, while the US took a vague stance on war criminals convicted at the International Criminal Court and on territorial issues in the Asia-Pacific region in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952. The ramifications of such errors are now being felt through a power shift in the 21st century. Korea, the US, and Japan should no longer refrain from paying whatever cost is required to set the past and the future straight and work to build a common house in the 21st century.

We are trying to bring your attention to the East Sea naming dispute along with the comfort women issue, which President Barack Obama has called "a terrible, egregious violation of human rights," in an aim to help Japan see its errors and evolve into a normal civil society and normal democratic state, thus building the Korea-US-Japan trilateral value alliance. This trilateral value alliance is the cornerstone of peace and sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region along with the Korea-US-Japan security alliance.

The Korea-US-Japan value alliance, built on the historical lessons of the 20th century, is critical in preserving a civil society and political democracy in the Western Pacific region that includes China and in passing on peace and stability to future generations. The strong value alliance between the US and Korea is the crucial first step.

Thank you.

This page last updated June 18, 2014 jdb