Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nationalism is a real thing? (2012 Summer Grant for Field Research)

I have a niece who's a straight-A high school student. Last Saturday I met her and got a chance to talk to her for two hours.

The first thing she talked about was her new best friend named Akiko, who came from Japan for one reason, leaving all her friends and family behind - which is, she loves to live Korea because she has fallen in love with Korean pop culture, the so-called Hanryu.

One day at school, Junghyun, my niece, asked her Japanese friend what her opinion was on the Tokdo (or Dakeshima in Japanese) dispute. Junghyun said she expected some positive answers ("positive" from Junghyun's viewpoint, of course) from Akiko such as "I think the Dokdo islet belongs to Korea," or "It's nonsense that Japan wants to have the territory that they illegally occupied during the colonial time. Maybe my niece expected those answers since she knew how much Akiko loved Korean pop culture. I mean, Akiko left for South Korea to live in Seoul!!

However, as opposed to what Junghyun expected, Akiko replied, "I think we should not fight...But I think we should call the islet Dakeshima, not Dokdo." Since this conversation, there has been a long "pause" between Junghyun and Akiko and either of them has not yet tried to reset their friendship mode.

This conversation with my niece has led me to think about nationalism - i.e., whether nationalism is a real thing, and historical animosity that exists between countries is a real thing that can be explained by scholars. Though my have attempted to explain the historical animosity that exists between Korea and Japan as well as between China and Japan with such variables as culture, identity, power, and politics, I am still not convinced that the historical animosity that works as a background of heightened nationalism is a real deal.

The current president of South Korea, Lee Myong Bak, went to Dokdo last week. Why last week? Why he had to go there all of sudden especially when he goes through lame duck session? Why not in 2009 when his political popularity spiked? Although he said that he had planned for the visit to Dokdo for three years, it appears that nobody is convinced by this statement.

Then in the case of Japan, while hitting the nadir of political popularity in Japan, why has the PM Noda shifted its stance on Dokdo from moderate to super conservative? After expressing their deep "remorse" regarding its imperial past in the early 20th century, why does Japan still want the territory that they had illegally extorted? Does this really prove that Japan is not apologetic at all about what they had done to other Asians for their territorial greed?

Let alone those questions, the real question we should try to answer is who is provoking our calm mind and who is instigating our nationalism in the name of patriotism?

The Politicians in both Japan and South Korea are using this delicate territorial issue for their exit strategy to get out of their unpopular moment, even jeopardizing the burgeoning economic and cultural relations between the two countries. Although this vulnerable situation provides me with another instance to prove that asymmetric economic interdependence adversely affects a secondary state's alignment decision by narrowing the choices down, I am not happy with this... Since everybody losing their more important and realistic interests while not noticing. Winning an emotional game while losing a real bet cannot be called a true victory.

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