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The Ghosts of History in East Asia

This year marks the centenary of the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and on August 15 many countries will commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the end of WWII in the Pacific. Of course, Japan’s military dominance in East Asia – which began with the Russo-Japanese War and led to WWII – is no more. The ghosts of this history still hang over in East Asia, with each country struggling to find ways to deal with the past.

China is a benchmark. Over the centuries, Japan and China have taken turns dominating East Asia, and both now seek to assert regional hegemony. Historically, the Korean Peninsula was the playground for this rivalry, but, with North and South Korea appearing to make peace with each other, South Korea is also staking a claim to regional influence.

Resentment over past wrongs buttresses all of these rival claims for influence.

During his visit to the US in June, South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun told President Bush that China had invaded Korea over 100 times in history. His remarks shocked China, which views itself as the victim of invasions (most humiliatingly, by the Japanese) and has forgotten its own history of bullying its neighbors.