Kofi Annan’s call for reconciliation in Northeast Asia

Updated On: May 16, 2006

The UN chief Kofi Annan has made a rare intervention in Northeast Asia’s political order to foster peace in that region.

Annan has urged JapanChina and South Korea to overcome their past and reach "harmonious relations". "You don't choose your neighbours. You are bound to live together," he said, ahead of a visit to all three countries. Speaking in New York before departing on the trip, Mr Annan said: "China, [South] Korea and Japan all agree that it is essential that they have harmonious and good relations between them."

He hoped that the Northeast Asian leaders can emulate and learn from other regions referring to the "remarkable" ceremony last year in which leaders of former WWII enemies stood side by side in Moscow to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. "All sorts of leaders who have been on both sides of the war were there burying the past and I thought that was a very symbolic thing," he said.

While such comments were readily understood and appreciated, his other comments about historical authenticity was less clear as to who the target audience were. He called for a truthful handling of the past, noting that history books should convey facts "honestly and clearly". China’s official People’s Daily interpreted the comments as referring to Japan.  According to Xinhua and AFP, when Annan was asked for his view on Tokyo's adoption of some new school history textbooks, which critics say whitewashes Japan's wartime atrocities, he said: “Obviously, we have to be truthful about history…We need to educate younger generations on what went wrong in the past...So I think we should have good history books that tell stories about our nation and our past honestly”.

Annan’s call for peace and order amongst Northeast Asian neighbors may be prompted by the fact that he is stepping down, and the next UN Secretary-General is likely to come from the Asian region. 

Annan is not the only person making efforts for Northeast Asian détente. While Sino-Japanese ties are bad on the surface, both sides are throwing a very elaborate political smokescreen to patch up ties. Beijing knows that it is succession season in Japan and that politicians there have traditionally used rightwing slurs to win votes while Tokyo gets the message from former PM's Hashimoto's visit that the Chinese leadership is willing to talk if a compromise could be reached on the Yasukuni issue for Koizumi's successor. One sign of China's backdoor compromise comes from the fact that Beijing has not rejected Tokyo's request to resume talks between the countries' foreign ministers but added a vague remark that "a good atmosphere" is needed to make it possible.


Surakiart, Korean to meet Annan (Bangkok Post, 13 May 2006)

'Atmosphere' key to talks: China  (Japan Times, 12 May 2006)

Annan tells JapanChina and S. Korea to kiss and make up (Asahi, 12 May 2006)

Annan urges Japan to face wartime past (Xinhua, 12 May 2006)

Annan calls for E Asian detente  (BBC, 11 May 2006)

Envoy: Get over history issue and then let's talk about the rest (Asahi, 10 May 2006)