Protectionism doesn’t protect usKorea is the world’s 15th-largest economy in terms of gross domestic product and its eighth-largest trading powerhouse. We reached this point because our businesses weren’t afraid to venture out beyond our small frontiers and our market openly invited others in.
To sustain and develop our status as champion of capitalist, mercantile and free market order, we must keep nationalistic and protectionist sentiment at bay.
It is why we want to point out that the campaign to boycott Japanese products led by merchants in protest of Japan’s heightened assertiveness over the Dokdo islets in the East Sea could do more harm than good.
Over 80 consumer alliance group members and 60 small merchants and retail organizations proclaimed that they won’t sell Japanese products in protest of Japan’s high-profile event hosted by Shimane Prefecture to reclaim sovereignty over Takeshima, the Japanese name for Dokdo, off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula.
Civilian groups have led a consumer boycott before, but merchants rarely organized a mass-scale campaign to take Japanese products off their shelves.
They speak of patriotism, but the market should be unaffected by politics in order to move freely. Merchants are also undermining the rights of consumers by limiting consumer choice and threatening market order and principles.
The merchants likened the boycott to the nationalistic movement during the colonial days more than 90 years ago, when merchants pushed the use of Korean products to raise capital for independence from Japanese rule.
But today’s Korean economy is under no threat from foreign invasion and instead is among the top in the global market. We cannot persuade others to use our products if we voluntarily shun those of other countries. Protectionism and nationalism are particularly hazardous to our economy, which primarily relies on external trade.
We have seen the disastrous outcome of Chinese boycotts. Amid escalating anti-Japanese sentiment due to sovereignty disputes over the Diaoyu, or Senkaku, Islands, China launched aggressive boycotts that led to a sharp fall in the sales of Japanese goods in China.
But China felt ill effects as well. Japan’s imports of Chinese products also fell sharply and Japanese capital turned elsewhere for investment. Beating Japan won’t happen by shunning their products, but outpacing them in performance and competition.