Sunday, July 07, 2019

80 Years of Injustice: The Joint, Serial, and Ongoing Betrayal of Korea by the United States and Japan

[This is the script for the extended audio version my May 13, 2017 Asia Brief episode "Shame in San Francisco: America's Betrayal of Korea".]

A continuing frustration for US strategic planners is the deep mistrust and division between Japan and South Korea.

You’d think it would be: You hate Communists, we hate Communists.  You hate China, we hate China.  We’re both US allies!  We should hang out!

But it’s never like that, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has found out as he tries to wrangle Japan and South Korea into line on North Korea policy.

The current friction point is furious sparring over the placement of a “comfort woman” statue in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea.  It is there to confront and shame Japan over its use of 200,000 Korean women as sex slaves for the Japanese army throughout Asia during World War II.  

Japan decided to be angry instead of ashamed and withdrew its consul from Busan as a sign of its disapproval.

The rancor between Japan and South Korea is deep and has its roots in a century of injustice.   

Awkwardly for the United States, the key injustice is the US and Japan ganging up to screw Korea at the so-called San Francisco Peace Conference of 1951.

Why a “so-called” peace conference?

San Francisco was not a peace conference dealing out victor’s justice to Japan after World War II. 

Big Four Allies China and the Soviet Union weren’t invited.  It wasn’t a peace conference dealing out human justice for the victims of Japanese aggression in World War II.  China, as victim with 40 million dead, wasn’t there.  Neither was Korea.

No, the San Francisco conference was the announcement of the new Cold War order in Asia, in which Japan was rehabilitated as America’s indispensable partner against Communist expansion. 

World War II was officially in the rear view mirror, and Japan’s victims were called on to suck it up and let bygones be bygones.

The biggest ripoff of the San Francisco Treaty was to allow Japan to set aside indefinitely the issue of reparations for countries it had ravaged during the war.

As for Korea…well, nobody wanted to talk about Korea.  In fact, keeping Korea out of the San Francisco Conference and the Koreans in legal limbo was vital to the joint US-Japanese project.

Japan had annexed Korea to the empire in 1910.  Japanese rule over Korea did not go very well.  

Rule was often clumsy and brutal and it was resisted.  And when the horror of World War II descended, Korea was stripped of hundreds of thousands of its people to serve the Japanese war machine as soldiers and policemen, workers in its mines and factories, and sex slaves.  

Approximately half a million died.  

Because of the 1910 annexation, Koreans lived and died as full citizens of the Japanese empire.

But as the Japanese empire crumbled in the waning days of World War II, it appears Japan decided to abandon its dreams of empire and re-invent itself as a monoethnic nationalistic bastion, as Ataturk reinvented the core of the Ottoman empire as Turkey after the catastrophe of World War I.  That meant dumping Korea…and forgetting the Koreans.  

Literally the last act of the Japanese emperor before submitting to the US occupation in 1945 was to downgrade the citizenship of Koreans, both in Korea and in Japan, by stripping them of their right to vote.  

By 1951 over 600,000 Koreans, many of whom had resided there for decades, remained in Japan.  Now known as zainichi or “sojourners”, they were considered to be an unwelcome, unassimilable underclass riddled with criminals and Communists, that the US and Japanese authorities were eager to repatriate to Korea as soon as possible.

When it came time to negotiate a peace treaty and restore Japanese sovereignty, Japan was prepared  to fling aside its claim to rule Korea without a thought.  However, Japan and the US saw a danger that the zainichi might agitate for rights and residence and citizenship and compensation in Japan and mess up the nice neat settlement that was planned.

The inconvenience was removed by refusing to let the Republic of Korea participate in the conference and put the zainichi on the agenda.  As soon as the San Francisco Treaty was ratified and Japan regained its sovereignty, it passed a law stripping the Korean zainichi of their Japanese citizenship and turned them into stateless persons.  

And once the Koreans were stripped of their Japanese citizenship, they were not entitled to share in the benefits of Japanese citizens, such as the compensation the postwar Japanese government voted to Japanese war veterans…even though the Korean veterans had been full Japanese citizens during the war.  

Having denied the Koreans  Japanese citizenship to strip them of any current rights, the US and Japan colluded to use Koreans’ previous Japanese citizenship to strip them of their past rights.

According to the US and Japan, all those things that Japan had done to Koreans before and during World War II were legal, because Koreans were citizens of the Japanese empire and subject to Japanese law.  Just like Japanese citizens on the main islands, they were not entitled to compensation for their suffering and ill treatment during the war.

Koreans, in other words, were only Japanese citizens when it could hurt them and not when it could help them.

As to the legal standing of the Republic of Korea, Japan and the United States certainly didn’t regard it as the restored government of pre-1910 independent Korea.  It was simply a successor administration put in place by the United States, which had taken over land that Japan had legally annexed with extensive international recognition in 1910 but then formally renounced in 1951 per the terms of the peace treaty.

Obligation of Japan to the ROK: nothing.

Less than nothing, in fact.

As late as 1957, the Japanese government was still claiming that the South Korean government should compensate Japan for Japanese property lost after the war.  And when Japan and South Korea finally normalized relations, it was not on the basis of criminal liability and reparations; it was on the basis of mutual commercial restitution, tying up a few loose ends after Japan had legally walked away from Korea.

The negotiations took 15 years.  In 1965, the Park dictatorship concluded an agreement to normalize relations with Japan that many Koreans regarded as a sellout.  Japan promised $300 million in cash and $500 million in soft loans; and with the encouragement of the United States, the ROK endorsed the San Francisco Treaty as a “final settlement”.  The resultant demonstrations and rioting brought martial law to the streets of Seoul.

As far as Japan was concerned, that was the end of it.  It had no obligation either for 35 years of colonization or for its conduct during the war.

But for Korea it was just the beginning of decades of legal arguing and moral hectoring in an attempt to get Japan to acknowledge it had done wrong on the Korean peninsula.

A variety of arguments were put forth: that the 1910 annexation was illegal, because a key document lacked the Korean emperor’s official seal; that despite the 1965 agreement, individual Koreans still had the legal right to pursue compensation for abuses during colonial rule; and since the Dokdo islands had not been explicitly mentioned in the San Francisco Peace Treaty as Japanese territory, Japan should accept them as ROK territory.

In short, the entire historical record was trawled to discover any plausible legal grounds for compelling acknowledgment of culpability and compensation by Japan.

By review of thousands of pages of Korean government documents relating to negotiations over normalization with Japan, a new issue was discovered, one that had not in any way shaped the 1965 treaty negotiations: the comfort women.

It was an especially compelling issue because apparently only Korean and Chinese women were subjected to forced conscription as sex workers serving the Japanese military, not ethnic Japanese or Okinawans.  This gave the lie to to Japanese claim of equal treatment to Koreans as full Japanese citizens during the war and exposed the exploitative and colonial aspect of Japanese rule. 

The Japanese government dodged and weaved to try to minimize the public relations fallout of the wrenching testimony of Korean women who were taken from their homes, shipped overseas to military brothels, and forced to have sex with up to 50 Japanese soldiers a day.  No, smearing them as willing prostitutes was not the way out.  The Japanese government stammered out some apologies and mediated the establishment of a comfort women fund…funded by private contributions.

In other words, no acknowledgment of Japanese government responsibility, no admission of legal liability for acts during the period of Japanese rule, and no obligation to pay compensation.

When arch-nationalist Shinzo Abe came to power, Japan rejected the “victor’s justice” of World War II and changed the frame of Korean dialogue to Japan’s victimhood.  Instead of talking about the millions of Korean lives shattered by Japan’s imperial misdeeds, he obsessed with 13 Japanese abductees kidnapped by North Korea.  And by an act of the Japanese parliament, it was officially confirmed that Japan had never officially apologized for the treatment of the comfort women.

No surprise, then, that resentment still smolders at the heart of Japanese-Korean relations.

In the United States, jumping in bed with Japanese war criminals is seen as George Kennan’s masterstroke that kept America in the game in the Western Pacific.  In fact, the post World War II security structure in Asia is called the San Francisco System.

As one group of US diplomats put it:

The US has pretty much written the betrayal of Korea at San Francisco out of history.  Maybe that’s why it finds Korea-Japan hostility so baffling.

Let me try to help.

Instead of the beautiful friendship between the United States and Japan, think of San Francisco as the horrible end of a horrible marriage between Korea and Japan.

The husband, Japan, beat the wife, Korea, raped the daughters, sent the sons off to die on battlefields and in the mines. Then he abandoned the family, found a crooked court, and bribed the judge.  He got an ironclad divorce and dodged alimony.  And then the husband married the crooked judge—the United States—and started a new life of riches and honor.  And then came back to tell the ex-wife she’s not doing enough to make the relationship work.

If Koreans don’t find that kind of relationship beautiful, maybe we can…forgive them.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Coddling Japan and Coveting Okinawa: Kennan and MacArthur set the course of North Asian history post-World War II

This is the script of my 2017 5 15 Asia Brief episode titled

The Dark Heart of Asia: George Kennan and America’s Pivot to Japan in 1948

An interesting thing happened on the road to universal freedom in the early 1950s.  The United States switched to a cold war footing in Asia.  The catalyst was George Kennan, the legendary architect of Soviet containment, and the mechanism a report he wrote for the State Department after a factfinding trip to Japan in 1948.  His report is one of the most important documents in post World War II Asian history.

Franklin Roosevelt had envisioned the United States as a virtuous participant in post-war Asian decolonization, starting with independence for the Philippines and including national determination for ex-colonies that eventually became nations like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, Singapore and Korea.

But by the time 1948 came along, FDR was gone, Truman was president, and containment hawks looked at Asia through the lens of thwarting Soviet expansion.

When Kennan left for Japan in March 1948, it looks like he already had his Japan policy figured out.  The questions he had for MacArthur were more like detailed policy proposals for which he was soliciting MacArthur’s buy-in.

Kennan looked at the disposition of forces in Asia, including the flailing of Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China regime on the mainland in its struggle with Mao and the Communists, and decided that the United States needed secure island bastions in Asia to serve as military bases to confront the Soviets.

A key focus was Japan, successfully subdued by its defeat and the occupation led by General Douglas MacArthur…and already hosting US military forces.

Kennan decided World War II was over and it was time to develop Japan as a pro-US asset. 

To declare that Japan was out of the woods on World War II meant handling the awkward fact that there was still no peace treaty.  Kennan was in no hurry to conclude a peace treaty because, as he saw it in 1948, a peace treaty would involve the removal of US forces.  Because of his anxieties concerning the Soviets, he wasn’t ready for that. 

For Kennan, the key was to restore the viability of the Japanese economy, not necessarily as a regional powerhouse but simply as a state prosperous and stable enough to resist anti-American unrest and Soviet subversion.  To restore Japan’s economy, the US needed to step up with assistance and access.  

That was because, especially without the peace treaty, Japan had to look east to the United States.  It had lost its mainland resources and markets, and the nations of East Asia that had suffered from Japan were not terribly keen to re-open their markets without a peace treaty…and reparations.

The US was determined to dodge the universal call for Japanese reparations.  Neither Kennan nor MacArthur had any interest in stripping Japan of 1000 of its most important factories—which had already been identified and tagged for the reparation program—to ship to Japan’s victims. 

No reparations is exactly what Japan got two and a half years later at the San Francisco Peace Conference.

The US was able to finesse the reparations issue at the 1950 conference.  By “finessing” I mean inserting a clause in the treaty that pushed off reparations for subsequent bilateral negotiations, in other words, only when Japan was ready to talk about them, and making sure that the most vociferous proponents of reparations were either excluded from the peace conference, as Russia, China, and Korea were or, in the case of the Philippines, pressured to accept the provision.

Kennan was keen to lighten the hand of MacArthur’s administration in order to avoid offending Japanese nationalism and provoking elite anti-Americanism.  This meant soft-pedaling reforms to break up Japan’s huge industrial combines like Mitsubishi and Mitsui, and scaling back the purge of Japanese officials and executives allegedly tainted by militarism.

Kennan also called for wrapping up the war crimes trials, which he and MacArthur regarded as a useless distraction.  

The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, can probably thank Kennan for the release  in December 1948 of his grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, who had been held in prison as a Class A war criminal.  Kishi had run the economy of Manchuria quite harshly for the Japanese imperial army in the 1930s, as well as literally signing the 1941 declaration of war against the United States. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the Kennan-MacArthur discussions was the role of Okinawa, which US planners regarded as the indispensable US military bastion in the Western Pacific.

MacArthur stated that Okinawa was not really part of Japan, and he saw no problem with alienating it permanently to the control of the United States.  Per Kennan’s notes, he said:

The people were not Japanese, and had never been assimilated when they had come to the Japanese main islands. The Japanese looked down on them. He had been obliged to evacuate a half million of them back to the Ryukyus, as one of the first acts of occupational policy. They were simple and good natured people, who would pick up a good deal of money and have a reasonably happy existence from an American base development in the Ryukyus.

The takeaway from the meeting was that Okinawa would stay American after any peace treaty, and serve as the primary US base in the Pacific for naval as well as air and marine forces.

Kennan formally advised Secretary of State Dean Acheson that 

The United States Government should make up its mind at this point that it intends to retain permanently the facilities at Okinawa, and the base there should be developed accordingly. The problem of obtaining international sanction for our permanent strategic control of the islands should be studied at once in the Department of State.

That is, of course, what happened.  The United States maintained administrative control over Okinawa until 1972.  Since then, the US, with the wholehearted support of the Japanese government, has battled local opposition to the massive footprint of its military bases, which cover 20% of the island.  

Okinawan resistance and resentment has striking parallels to anti-Japanese agitation in Korea, which I discussed in my previous Asia Brief episode.  In both cases, the core of the dispute is Japan’s determination, with the active backing of the United States, to evade any responsibility for the fortunes of an annexed people it summarily abandoned at the end of World War II.

It turned out that for the United States in the Cold War, maintaining US military bases in sovereign states was not the insurmountable task it had feared.  The first US-Japan security treaty signed in 1951 provided temporary provisions for US forces to stay and protect Japan, the second one, concluded in 1960, made the US presence permanent.

America had some help from a Japanese friend.

Upon his release from prison, Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi was patronized by the United States as its key political asset in Japan; he rose to Prime Minister and was eventually able to achieve one of the core objectives of the United States in the postwar period: obtaining Japanese ratification of the US-Japan Security Treaty in 1960 over massive local resistance, thereby assuring the US military presence in Japan and on Okinawa in perpetuity.

The unacknowledged reverse current in the US pivot to Japan in 1948 is Kennan’s determination to ignore the factors of decolonization and nationalism in Asia, and the popular forces that welcomed Communist support.  

Instead, Kennan applied his European Soviet containment template to Asia on the premise that the primary significant force at work was Soviet expansion, and the way to counter it was to secure nations and bases to project US deterrent military power.  This assumption proved to be very profitable for the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex—and very good for Japan-- but caused immense suffering and destruction in Asia during the Cold War.

Todat, 70 years after George Kennan’s report, Japan remains at the heart of the American security structure in Asia. 

Here's an extract from Kennan's report

The Russians were Orientals under the skin [according to MacArthur]. That was our great mistake in dealing with them; that we had not realized this and tried to treat them as Occidentals. Nevertheless, they could not pass as Orientals among the other Oriental peoples, and therefore could not exercise great influence in the Far East.

For these reasons, he attached great importance to Okinawa, and felt it absolutely necessary that we retain unilateral and complete control of the Ryukyu chain south of Latitude 29.

He regretted that we had not adopted a firm and permanent policy of base development at Okinawa. This had reflected unfavorably on the morale and efficiency of the forces stationed there. He pointed out that we had complete unilateral control of the Ryukyus at this time. They were not under SCAP authority but were under the authority of the Far East Command. They were therefore today entirely in our power and under our flag and no one could force us to release them without our consent.

As for the Japanese islands, he did not believe that it would be feasible for us to retain bases anywhere in Japan after the conclusion of a treaty of peace. For us to do so would be to admit the equally legitimate claim of others to do likewise.

If Russia still presents the same sort of threat to world security that she presents today, then I see only two alternatives: either we must not have the treaty at all and retain allied troops in Japan or we must permit Japan to re-arm to the extent that it would no longer constitute an open invitation to military aggression.