The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

April 2, 2014

Japan-Korea tussle over history spreads to US

WASHINGTON — All politics is local, the saying goes. But in some American cities, local politics has gone international, with city governments finding themselves caught in historical disputes between two close U.S. allies: Japan and South Korea.

Korean-Americans have won approval for local memorials for the victims of Japanese sexual slavery during World War II, over the objections of Japan. They have also pressed states to change school textbooks to address geographical differences with Japan.

These campaigns have gathered steam as relations between South Korea and Japan have soured despite Washington's effort to quell tensions between its two principal allies in Asia. They reflect the growing political power of Korean-Americans in states where they have a sizable presence. Many are first- and second-generation immigrants, whose ties to Korea are fresh and for whom nationalist causes still resonate.

Japanese-Americans, many of whom have more distant ties to their ancestral homeland, tend to be a less cohesive political force. Japan itself, rather than Americans of Japanese descent, has stepped into these local disputes, raising them directly with governments at the city and state level.

Japan says it has already apologized for the estimated 200,000 "comfort women" recruited for sex by Japan's imperial army. With some prodding from Washington, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month quashed speculation he planned to review the apology.

But Japan views the memorials and demands for textbook changes as unwarranted attempts to drag differences with South Korea into the domestic affairs of the U.S., which both countries prize as their chief diplomatic and security partner.

"We think it is not appropriate for local politics to be affected by the differences of opinion of its residents' home countries," Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement after being asked about it by The Associated Press.

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