Reconciliation in East Asia

Reconciliation processes in Asia face a number of challenges at the official level. However, at the level of civil society some progress is being made. The seminar will look at NGOs’ activities in Japan-Korea relations and at art in Japan-Vietnam relations to assess the potential for reconciliation today. In this seminar, Harry & Helen Gray/AICGS Reconciliation Fellows Agnieszka Batko and Nguyen Luong Hai Khoi will present their research conducted over the course of six weeks in Washington, DC.

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Looking Beyond the State: Alternative Approaches to Advancing the Japan-South Korea Reconciliation (Agnieszka Batko)

Despite having improved significantly since the end of the Pacific War, the Japan-South Korea bilateral relationship is still hampered by unsettled historical matters that impede development of mutual understanding and trust. In her presentation, Ms. Batko investigated the role that South Korean and Japanese non-governmental organizations play in spearheading reconciliation processes in the absence of effective state solutions. She also highlighted the inadequacy of the current U.S. approach in mediating reconciliation in East Asia and suggested that alternative strategies should be broached.

Key takeaways:

  • According to public opinion polls conducted in South Korea and Japan, the need to arrive at a historical understanding remains an important issue for the people of both countries.
  • Although some progress has been made, many bilateral tensions (revisionist Japanese PM, joint history textbooks, Takeshima/Dokdo territorial conflict) continue to act as major barriers to reconciliation.
  • Given stagnant development between governments, regional NGOs, such as Peace Boat, Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, and the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute, offer an alternative approach to advancing reconciliation.
  • Examples of NGO activities to this end include: provisioning the creation of joint textbooks, publishing data on the comfort women issue, andorganizing educational programs.
  • Working against their respective governments means that South Korean and Japanese NGOs often lack sufficient funding opportunities.
  • The U.S., acting as a mediator between its East Asian allies, has emphasized economic and security issues, and has neglected potential solutions at a societal level. To date, this approach has been largely unsuccessful.

Art and Reconciliation: Beyond Borders (Dr. Nguyen Luong Hai Khoi)

Asian countries share a long history of cross-cultural exchange, wherein the relations have often been marked by bloody rivalry. These historical issues have generated a need for reconciliation and mutual understanding. However, other Asian countries are still today predominantly imagined as “Others,” which can be viewed as the promotion of respective nationalist propaganda purposes. By examining the art work of Phan Quang, a Vietnamese contemporary artist, Dr. Khoi illustrated how art can be assigned a vital role in the process of unraveling unbiased historical truths, and ultimately, in the process of reconciliation.

Key takeaways:

  • Not only the political and the educational systems in Asia, but even the media are still infused with nationalistic rhetoric.
  • Usually, culture-specific nationalism has been carried out through the process of “othering,” which contains the notion of depicting an “Other” (e.g., “Vietnam,” “Japan,” “China,” “Korea”) in a negative light in comparison to one’s own culture.
  • In China, for example, more than 200 anti-Japanese films were made in 2012.
  • Research suggests that Asian countries tend to view themselves as victims rather than wrongdoers and that history is being manipulated to serve political purposes.
  • Background to Phan Quang’s work: The Japanese occupied Vietnam from 1940 until the end of World War II (1945). After the war ended, about 700 Japanese soldiers remained in Vietnam with women they had become affiliated with during the war.
  • Phan Quang’s RE/COVER is a series of photographs that portrays these Vietnamese women and their Japanese husbands and opens new possibilities of reading Vietnamese history.
  • His work leads the spectator to understand history not as an ideological battlefield where only “they” and “we” are allowed a say but, rather, allows history to be reinterpreted as a polyphonic milieu that leaves room for numerous overlapping voices and realities.
  • Thus, Quang’s work functions as a facilitator in the reconciliation process between Vietnam and Japan.

Lily Gardner Feldman’s concluding remarks:

Comparing the East Asian and German experiences, Dr. Gardner Feldman noted the centrality of NGOs in the German model of reconciliation and conjectured on the lack of definitive and visible leaders in South Korea-Japan reconciliation, in contrast to German reconciliation. Moreover, the U.S. clearly acted as a handmaiden in postwar Germany, a condition that has not occurred in East Asia. Dr. Gardner Feldman concluded by observing that Germany could take on a larger role in East Asian reconciliation.

Agnieszka Batko is a Harry & Helen Gray/AICGS Reconciliation Fellow in August and September 2017. She holds an MA in International Relations from Jagiellonian University (JU) and is currently pursuing her PhD degree in Political Science at JU. She also studied at Griffith University in Australia and University of Hull in the United Kingdom. Prior to coming to AICGS, she was conducting research at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. Her research interests include international relations in East Asia, Japanese foreign policy, the role of non-state actors in international relations, and IR theory.

Dr. Seiko Mimaki is an Associate Professor at Takasaki City University of Economics. She obtained her PhD from the University of Tokyo. Her recent article appears in Asia-Pacific between Conflict and Reconciliation (Jena Center for Reconciliation, 2016) and State Sponsored History After 1945 (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).

Dr. Nguyen Luong Hai Khoi a Harry & Helen Gray/AICGS Reconciliation Fellow in August and September 2017. He completed his PhD dissertation in the field of Japanese non-dual aesthetics at the Nihon University, Tokyo, Japan in 2014 and was a postdoc at the Hiroshima University, Japan, in 2015. He has been the Director of Department of Literature theory, Faculty of Literature and Linguistics, Hochiminh City University of Education, Vietnam. His research interests concern Japanese social, culture and Buddhist philosophy and aesthetics in comparison to Vietnamese ones.

September 7, 2017