Former South Korean consul general, a second-generation A-bomb survivor, hopes for better relations between Japan and South Korea

by Masakazu Domen, Staff Writer

Asked about current relations between Japan and South Korea, Shin Hyung-Keun, 61, expressed dismay. “Not only the feelings between political leaders but also the feelings between our citizens have grown worse,” he said. “These current conditions must change.” Mr. Shin served for three years as the South Korean consul general in Hiroshima, then returned to South Korea last year. He was interviewed at his office in Seoul.

“Both South Korea and Japan are surrounded by nuclear powers like the United States, China, Russia, and North Korea, but don’t possess nuclear weapons themselves,” he went on. “If our two countries are at odds, how can we advance prospects for the abolition of nuclear weapons?”

Mr. Shin is a second-generation A-bomb survivor. His father, Shin Yong-su, who died in 1999 at the age of 80, experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The elder Shin served as chair of the South Korean Atomic Bomb Sufferers Association and took the lead in efforts to call for assistance for survivors in South Korea as well as conveying the horror of nuclear weapons. Mr. Shin said, “My father and the fight he waged with his group was warmly and diligently supported by Japanese citizens.” He points to how cooperation between the citizens of Japan and South Korea paved the way for expanding relief to A-bomb survivors living abroad, under the slogan, “A-bomb survivors are the same, no matter where they live.”

However, in recent years, worrisome conditions, including a rise in anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiment, has plagued relations between the two countries. Hate speech against Koreans, which took place on the streets of Japan, was covered widely in the Korean media. This has led to a vicious cycle, fueling anti-Japanese sentiment among South Koreans, which stems from the time of Japanese colonial rule and the issue of “comfort women.”

As a former diplomat, Mr. Shin stressed, “Cooperation on a grassroots level must be rebuilt first to promote friendship on the government level. Then, the peace of Northeast Asia will lie ahead of us.”

(Originally published on April 25, 2015)