[VIEWPOINT]Korea must avoid Japan's errors

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[VIEWPOINT]Korea must avoid Japan's errors

The mystery of the Japanese economy is that although the best and the latest economic strategies have been applied none have succeeded.

Why is it so? Because the source of Japanese economic decline lies much deeper.

The fundamental problem with the Japanese economy, I believe, is that the source that creates the energy for society also is a problematic variable in society. There are three reasons for this problem: Japan is cliquish, parsimonious, and it fails to envision its future.

First, let me address its closed society. Any culture ceases to progress when it becomes clannish and excludes the outside world.

The Joseon Dynasty in Korea, the Qing Dynasty in China, and Germany under the Nazi regime perished because they were clannish. Conversely, the Roman Empire, the United Kingdom and the United States, which all have left a mark on world history, have been open and comprehensive.

Japan has long excluded anything that was foreign, including foreign people, their products, cultures and even their knowledge.

As evidenced by the legal status of Korean residents in Japan, who are not allowed to acquire citizenship even after living in Japan for generations, Japan is reluctant to accept foreigners into their society.

Although Japan is one of the world's leading developed nations, it has been listed by the United States as having exclusionary trade practices in insurance, telecommunications, paper and paper products.

Leading Japanese universities have not hired candidates with doctoral degrees from foreign countries. They regard candidates with degrees from Japanese universities higher. To the surprise of many who have studied in Japan, this lack of looking beyond the country's borders has produced professors who aren't in touch with financial theories and tools developed in the West, such as derivative products.

Second, Japan is parsimonious. After Japan rose to become the second-leading economy in the world, it is still known to be a country that receives rather than gives. No country where Japanese companies have expanded has thanked or praised Japan, even though it is an economic leader in the Asian region.

I have no recollection of Japan even once making a sensation for its foreign aid. Japan, a country that could be considered the big brother to other Asian states, refused to receive any boat people from Vietnam.

So, even though Japan is rich, it has no image other than of a thrifty nation that would never tolerate loss. A society that cannot give or lend a hand will be imprisoned in its own frame.

Third, Japan can not properly envision its future. The reason is because Japan has not properly reconciled its past.

Germany, which also lost in World War II, has reconciled its past through apology. Through apology, Germany cannot only see the future but it can also be at peace with its neighbors.

The controversy surrounding Japanese textbooks is an example of how Japan has not reconciled its past. Japan's view is split into those who project the future and those who see the past. Therefore, Japan cannot move forward. Japan finds it difficult to accept other historical views, just as it seems to fail to understand the need for globalization.

Here, in Korea, the economy, political situation and culture are improving rapidly. I believe that within 10 years, Korea will be the closest country to resemble Japan in the 1980s.

However, Japan's prosperity only lasted a decade. As I see Korea today, and the events that are taking place, I feel that Korea has the potential to face a similar fate.

Korea is cliquish. It is the only country in the world where Chinese ethnics cannot settle. Korea is not tolerant to dual nationality holders. Korea's legal system makes it difficult for foreign schools, hospitals, lawyers, doctors to operate successfully in this country.

Korea is also parsimonious.

Foreign aid is limited, and there is a lot of fuss and dispute over splitting and sharing with North Korea, a brethren of ours. It, therefore, seems unlikely that we will acquire the image of a country that is sufficiently willing to give to others.

We have not properly reconciled our past. The confusion and the distortion of our history is still going on. We cannot teach others about our history until we understand it ourselves.

To become a nouveau riche is, to some extent, not very difficult. However, becoming a wealthy nation is a different proposition.

It concerns me that Korea, which has become a nouveau riche, may follow the similar steps of Japan and fall into decline.


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The writer is a professor of international law at Sejong University.

by Junn Sung-chull

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