[FORUM]Don't gloat about Japan's woes

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[FORUM]Don't gloat about Japan's woes

Hainan Dao, a resort on the southern tip of China, is crowded with Koreans. The eleven golf courses on the island are raking in profits, mostly from Korean golfers. Because successful businesses always tailor their products and services to meet the demands of their customers, caddies at the golf courses have had Korean language training and can carry on simple conversations in Korean. What once was a place for Japanese golfers has become a playground for Koreans, and the hosts seem to have done well in accommodating the new tide of customers.

Not only China, but also in other resort areas in the region, the mainstream of customers has switched from Japanese to Koreans. For example, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are welcoming Korean tourists en masse. Some people might go as far as to say that this is a reflection of shifting economic fortunes - changes in the wealth of nations. At some golf resorts, 70 to 80 percent of the customers are said to be Koreans, and some observers say that the reason for the trend is that the Korean economy is growing relatively strong while Japan's economy is stagnating. As more and more Japanese companies go bankrupt and the credit rating of the country itself is being lowered, a new wave of Japan doomsday scenarios make the rounds and some complacent Koreans even predict that Korea will overtake Japan soon.

Korean golfers make up their own rules of golf as it pleases them, and overpay their caddies lavishly; those are the actions of the nouveau riche. This is surely nothing to be proud of, but what is even more embarrassing is this nonsense about the Korean economy overtaking Japan's. Nevertheless, such talk seems to be spreading like a disease; even some politicians talk about it. What a different picture compared to four years ago, when we were in the middle of the Asian economic crisis and hung on every word coming from Japan.

Japan's doomsday scenario has been hanging out there for a long time. In fact, it surfaced several times each year during the country's 10-year-long slide.

Koreans have a tendency to say, "I feel like dying" whenever they run into problems. The Japanese doomsday scenario is similarly exaggerated. The Japanese economy is not going to collapse; such talk is the product of our "Japan complex."

The Japanese media are pouring fuel onto the fire. Their emphasis on the negative gives the impression that something dramatic is going to happen quickly. Japanese politicians are being criticized for a lack of leadership and are entangled in corruption scandals while the financial sector is riddled with bad loans and profits are falling. Corporate restructuring is not going forward, and the education system is a mess at best - and so goes the list of woes that contributes to the birth of the doomsday scenario.

Nobody says that the United States is losing its competitiveness when its economy turns downward. The same is true for Japan. Yes, companies are going belly-up every day, but the manufacturing sector is sound and that sector has the bulk of the potential of the Japanese economy. Foreign capital is leaving the country, but under a floating foreign exchange system, there is little chance of a crisis. As for the political fighting, I don't remember any time when there was none at all. Politicians are the same everywhere, so we should not judge Japan by looking at this limited group of people. We should watch the professionals that move the government and society.

So far, Japan has taken advantage of our problems. It has focused on the negative side of Korea and tried to learn a lesson from its neighbor's mistakes. Problems of the college entrance examination and the value added tax system have served as good examples to the Japanese. Now Japan is trying to learn from the success of Korea in the information technology sector and its marketing. One thing is for certain, however: We have to learn a lot from the Japanese as well. If we are blinded by our own conceit, we will not find Japan's strong points. Now is the time to be even more humble and learn what we can from Japan. As the World Cup nears, the two countries should compete but at the same time try to learn and understand as much as they can.


The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Choi Chul-joo

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