Thursday, June 20, 2013

Japan Snubs UN Plea Over Sex Slaves


The Japanese government has decided to ignore a recommendation by the UN Committee Against Torture to curb denials by Japanese politicians of the country's responsibility for forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet met Tuesday and decided not to accept the recommendation, saying the body's pronouncements are not legally binding.

UNCAT said the Japanese government should "refute attempts to deny the facts by the government authorities and public figures and to re-traumatize the victims through such repeated denials." Instead, it should inform the young generation in school textbooks of Japanese wartime atrocities so that they are never repeated.

The recommendations came in the wake of highly publicized grandstanding by the rightwing Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who denies that Japan's Imperial Army forced women into prostitution.

A network of Japanese civic groups who want their government to admit responsibility called the decision "embarrassing" and criticized their government for willful blindness to documentary evidence. The network in a seminar on Tuesday urged lawmakers to admit the wartime government's responsibility and compensate victims properly.

Headquartered in Geneva, UNCAT was established in 1988 to monitor torture and human rights abuses around the world. The 10-member committee reviews violations around the world.

After UNCAT's last review of Japan in 2007, Tokyo argued that the mobilization of sex slaves pre-dates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was only enacted in 1987, so no legitimate claims arise. The UN rejected that argument.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hallyu may lose popularity within some years

By Baek Byung-yeul

Korea in the past years has invested Herculean efforts to extend the international boom for its cultural exports, dubbed "hallyu" (the Korean wave). However, there are increasing arguments that the government should relax its aggressive marketing as foreigners seem to be showing signs of recoiling from the smell of nationalism.

A survey of more than 3,600 people from Asian countries, Europe, the United States and Russia by the Korea Foundation for International Cultural Exchange (KOFICE) showed 66 percent of the respondents predicting hallyu will become irrelevant as a commercial force in their countries within the next four years. More than 15 percent of them believed hallyu has reached that point already.

KOFICE, which conducted the poll in November last year and recently unveiled the results, observed that the popularity of Korean cultural products in Japan and China, which have been the centers of the hallyu boom, is dwindling rapidly.

The success of hallyu is critical in the minds of policymakers, who are desperate to extend the country’s industrialization "myth" to culture when its manufacturers are struggling to keep up with their rivals in China and other developing nations, which can compete more ruthlessly on cost.

However, too much bureaucratic talk about cultural ''exports’’ and not enough about cultural "exchanges," seem to have bred fatigue in hallyu-consuming countries.

"We all know how popular hallyu is and these cultural products can have far-reaching impact and potentially complement Hollywood as international products. However, the government is too involved in this picture and even Korean culture exporters are seeing this as heavy-handed," said Han Seung-bum, president of the Korean Wave Research Institute (KWRI).

"The government has been busy planning one-off events of every kind, but officials are only chasing immediate and tangible outcomes, and not looking at the long term picture. The government wants to be a player on the field when they are better equipped as cheerleaders. They should focus on creating an environment where these companies can exercise larger creative freedom, which means more institutional support and less restriction."

Hallyu began to take root in the late 1990s when Korea began finding international markets for its films, television shows and music. Then the soap opera, “Winter Sonata,” aired on Japan’s NHK television in 2003, touched off a national fever, and launched hallyu as an international phenomenon.

Korean cultural products have since found markets beyond Asia and garnered followings in the Middle East, Latin America and to a lesser extent North America and Europe.

However, KOFICE believes there are reasons to think that hallyu has already passed its peak.

In its survey, about 71 percent of Chinese respondents said they believe hallyu will be diffuse in their country within the next five years. About 24 percent of them said Korean cultural products no longer pass the coolness test.

Among Japanese respondents, 91 percent of them gave five years for hallyu to matter. About 30 percent of the respondents said they were already fed up because Korean dramas and pop music have become predictable and cliched.

The government has been consistently involved in efforts to expand the market for hallyu. Korean Cultural Centers, located in practically every country Korea has diplomatic relations with, are required to organize cultural events and other activities to assists hallyu exports and promote Korean culture.

Recently, the cultural center in in Washington organized a "hallyu camp," giving an opportunity for American students to visit Korea during their summer vacations and experience its culture first hand.

However, there are debates on whether these excessive promotions are working as prescribed.

"Look at the case of Psy. He is popular because global fans found something to enjoy in his music, not because the government made a decent argument that everybody should like him. The consumption of cultural products is voluntary," Han said.


Korea still entangled in the thick of 'Hundred Year's War'


“The Hundred Years’ War in Korea,” a documentary film made by the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities

Prof. Lee Wan-bom of the Academy of Korean Studies
By Lee Wan-bom / The Korea Times

Today we undergoing something similar to the “Hundred Years’ War.” Historically this was ongoing conflict between England and France. But the war I am referring to refers to one in Korea. And it isn't the war between the North and the South but within the Republic of Korea; it’s the ideological war between leftists and rightists.

“The Hundred Years’ War,” is a documentary film that portrays the successes and failures of former Korean Presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee made by the Institute for Research in Collaborationist Activities in Korea. This film has been viewed by over 3 million people on YouTube. It is the most viewed Korean documentary. This is not only because people can gain access to the film for free but also that Korean people have a passion for history.

The filmmaker interpreted Korean contemporary history as a war between pro-Japanese collaborators and anti-Japanese resistance. From 1910, pro-Japanese collaborators dominated in the Korean government. But collaborators have long been moving against anti-Japanese activists from their established society. They made a long concerted effort, taking advantage of victory in Japanese colonial period from 1910-1945. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, pro-Japanese had to be purged and ruled out from the new Korean government. In the film, Syngman Rhee saved the life of collaborators and recruited them. This was so that they could be converted to a pro-American point of view because of the dominant U.S. influence on South Korea.

In the film, Park Chung-hee also saved and helped his pro-Japanese colleagues. Park was a very good student of the Japanese military education system and worshiped the Manchurian economic development model. The film showed that he was a puppet of the United States for pushing ahead with American style export-oriented industrialization.

Are all these arguments true or false? Almost all documentaries are based on facts. But all documentaries are not true but about-half-fiction created with a producer's imagination and storytelling. A documentary film seems to be somewhat more objective than an ordinary fiction film. But all documentaries are not objective but subjective. The popularly viewed documentary film such as “The Hundred Years' War” may be verified with facts and sources from within academic circles. This verification is one of the missions of Korean Studies.

Needless to say, Syngman Rhee is not pro-Japanese just like Yi Wan-yong. But from the point of view of the supporter of absolute independence just like Shin Chae-ho, Dr. Rhee is a helper of pro-Japanese people. In particular, the young Rhee during late 19th century was anti-Russian and he was relatively friendly to Japan. He thought Japan would help Joseon and could control Russian colonial ambition in favor of our country. If Russia had beaten Japan in 1904, Joseon would have become a part of the USSR. Japan was the savior of Korea at that time so he had a somewhat friendly feeling toward Japan.
But while Japan fought against the U.S., Rhee was a pioneer of anti-Japanese sentiment. It is true that Rhee was an ingrained pro-American after living and being educated in the U.S. And he regarded himself as a diplomat and the president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Exile. Rhee was a defender of diplomacy-first policy. He thought engaging in armed struggle would be but a drop in the ocean and hated it. Many leaders of the independence movement criticized Rhee's diplomacy-first style and finally impeached him from the president of the Interim Republic of Korea. From the view of armed-struggle-first strategy, Rhee was not a genuine leader of the independence movement and regarded as a helper of Japanese colonialism. At that time, there were many conflicting strategies and antagonisms between groups. Very severe conflict between the Rhee group and the Park Yong-man group in Hawaii was one of Korean's main rivalries.

Right after liberation in 1945, many Korean people including the top leader of the communists Park Hun-young regarded Rhee as a symbol of our independence movement and a high ranking leader.

If many Koreans had regarded Rhee as pro-Japanese, he could have not become the 1st president of the Unified Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai of 1919, and moreover the president of People's Republic of Korea of 1945.

Rhee became a winner of the power game in 1948 and established the Republic of Korea. But that was all. He did not govern well on the basis of Western style liberal democracy. Rhee became a dictator and was finally ousted from presidency because of the combination of people's power and the U.S. influence of intentional abandonment in 1960. Although Rhee saved Korea from communist aggression in 1948 and 1950, he is not regarded as a founding father of the Republic of Korea by its people.

This documentary represents their view. And they want to regard him as a partial supporter of Japanese imperialism, and furthermore, a pro-Japanese. But it is a fact that Rhee was one of leaders of Korean independence movements within lots of contending groups and strategies.

Historically speaking, is Rhee a good man or not? That depends on your ideology and your subjective interpretation. It is very difficult and complicated to estimate any historical person. It is definitely impossible to judge Rhee with objective facts and balanced viewpoint. That's Park Chung Hee too. There are not real, genuine and objective facts at all. We, scholars only try to go near truth as possible, but we can't get truth itself. We can only walk around truth with a heap of subjective materials and sources. So it is a reader's free discretion and privilege to pretend to grasp truth.

The writer is a professor of the Academy of Korean Studies.