While US Vice President Mike Pence was rudely sitting down while the joint Korean team marched past well wishes during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Games, American mainstream media broadcasters said something which crossed an even bigger diplomatic and socio-cultural line.
While the Japanese team marched during the parade of nations, Joshua Cooper Ramo of the US broadcasting giant NBC stated,
“Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945. But every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural and technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation”.
This lead to a firestorm of protest from angry Koreans who took to social media to castigate the deeply insensitive remarks. The Japanese occupation of Korea is remembered for its unique brutality in which the occupying forces slaughtered Koreans, took Korean female salves and tried to eradicate the legacy of Korean culture in its own home.
As recently as this month, Koreans have been protesting the removal of a “comfort woman” statue outside of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, as a deal with Tokyo was reached in late January, 2018 which saw the Japanese government paying 1 billion yen (about $8.3 million) in compensation to the survivors of Japan’s occupation and to the families of the dead. In return, Seoul has promised not to mention the issue of comfort women in future diplomatic dealings with Japan.
The term “comfort women” is used to denote the female Koreans that Japanese occupiers used as slaves. These Koreans suffered under the most excruciating conditions imaginable which has led many Korean groups to protest their government’s decision to accept the payment from Tokyo regarding the issue, as many believe that no money can compensate for the terrible crimes committed during occupation and that furthermore, this should not be used to silence contemporary protests over Japan’s 20th century occupation.
While relations between Japan and South Korea formally began in 1965, recent history continues to mar contemporary relations. The DPRK by contrast, has never had any formal diplomatic relations with Japan, although at an unofficial level, some business transactions do take place.
Far from accepting occupation and praising modern Japan, Koreans on both sides of the 38th parallel have generally negative feelings about Japan, even as Seoul and Tokyo are both US allies in the region. Writing in the Seoul based Korea Times, Jung Min-ho reports that one angry fellow Korean wrote in a public forum,
“Your comments about Korea are absolutely rubbish. After decades of human rights violations, exploiting our resources, and attempts to destroy our heritage, Japan is nowhere close to being thanked, but absolutely despised”.
NBC has since apologised to the Korean people, saying,
“During our coverage of the Parade of Nations on Friday we said it was notable that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the trip to Korea for the Olympics, representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 but every Korean will tell you that Japan is a cultural, technological and economic example that has been so important to their own transformation. We understand the Korean people were insulted by these comments and we apologise”.
For many, the apology will be too little too late as it beggars belief that highly paid mainstream media commentators know so little about the culture and history of a state that has welcomed them as journalists. Is it not the job of such people to educate themselves about areas where they clearly have no ostensible knowledge? One would think so, but this is apparently not the case.