[Viewpoint] Japan still winning the global trade war

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[Viewpoint] Japan still winning the global trade war

In January 1983, United States President Ronald Reagan said in the State of the Union address that Americans needed to learn from Japan. He emphasized the importance of education by saying, “Japan, with a population only about half the size of ours, graduates from its universities more engineers than we do.”

Since the United States was founded, it was the first time that the president mentioned Japan as an example in the State of the Union address. In the 1980s, the excellence of the Japanese economic system was highlighted as Japanese companies made advances to the U.S. market and the Japanese economy enjoyed a great boom.

The “learn from Japan” craze continued for over a decade in the United States. The Japanese school curriculums garnered attention from around the world, and the Japanese Ministry of Education even published instructional guidelines that contained the curriculums in elementary, middle and high schools in English and distributed them to other countries. However, Japan went through the burst of the bubble economy and prolonged recession, and Americans now say the United States should not follow in the footsteps of the Japanese economy.

This time, Japan is enthusiastic to learn from Korea. Korean athletes pulled off glorious accomplishments in the Vancouver Olympics, and the Korean president aggressively unfolded “sales” diplomacy and won the bid to build a nuclear power plant in the United Arab Emirates. Nihon Keizai Shimbun and other major media are analyzing the outstanding performances of Korean companies in their editorials and special reports. In fact, Korean companies have already surpassed their Japanese competitors in the DRAM semiconductor, television, mobile phone and shipbuilding industries. The gaps between Korea and Japan in automobile, steel and chemical industries have been reduced greatly. Sony and Toyota, which have long dominated the U.S. market, are losing market shares to Samsung and Hyundai Motors, and the reality is irritating enough for Japan. Twenty years ago, Japan’s GDP was 11 times that of Korea, and per-capita income was 3.9 times that of Korea. Today, Japan’s GDP is only 5.3 times the size of Korea’s, and per-capita income is 2.1 times that of Korea. In fact, I was never more proud of being Korean than now while living in Japan.

Then does Korea have the kind of influence and power that Japan once had in the 1980s when it was the envy of American politicians and businessmen?

Last year, Korea had a $27 billion deficit in trade with Japan. Korean companies are buying most of the key parts and materials for exported goods from Japan. Korea has not made profit from trade with Japan since the end of the war. Korean companies are performing better than Japanese rivals in the United States and Europe, but they are struggling in the Japanese market. While Toyota’s large-scale recall has hurt Japanese pride, the world still believes that Japanese companies have an edge in technology and quality while Korea has competitive prices and mass producing technology.

Japanese consumers still believe that Japanese products are best. Let’s not avoid the reality. The Japanese market is the ground for true competition.

Let’s work toward a day when Samsung televisions are preferred over Sharp and Toshiba models in Japan.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park So-young
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