Japan’s erratic directiveJapan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has ordered its staff to boycott Korean Air flights for one month beginning July 18. The strange directive is meant as a protest against a two-hour test flight of the airline’s new A380 over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea last month.
Japan regards the flight as a violation of its air space and appears to have made the directive based on a domestic political need. Yet we should never make light of a decision by the Japanese government - especially this time, when its claim to the islets has taken a concrete form and is aimed at a private Korean company.
Immediately after the Korean Air flight last month, Japan’s foreign ministry lodged an official complaint about the flight through its embassy in Seoul, with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto expressing his “deep” regret about the incident.
But the Japanese government reportedly imposed the ban on the airline after the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party argued that such a complaint is insufficient. We understand that Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has been under pressure for a breakthrough in its political crisis, particularly after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accidents there. Japan, however, has crossed the line by expanding the territorial dispute between two governments into a civilian matter.
Whether a Korean airliner flies over Korean territory or not is a sovereignty issue that other countries can and should not meddle in. Yet the Japanese foreign ministry has taken an erratic - and irrational - action in prohibiting its employees from boarding Korean Air flights for a month.
Apart from the effectiveness of the measure, we cannot accept Japan’s decision, as it is related to our territorial rights. We urge the Japanese government to withdraw its over-the-top directive as soon as possible.
Our government must strongly respond to Japan’s decision - including an official letter from our minister of Foreign Affairs - rather than demanding a recantation of what was said.
Our government also needs to find ways to file suit with the World Trade Organization, as Japan’s decision clearly violates the WTO’s principle respecting member countries’ sovereign rights within their territories. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan must recognize that this latest move will only harm its international image as well as its national interests.