Devil is in details with Japan tiesWhen Tokyo was named on Sept. 8 the host of the Olympic Games in 2020, I let out a sigh of relief.
It was good Japan had won, regardless of the deceptive remarks made by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the International Olympic Committee assembly, claiming contaminated water leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant were “under control” and that radioactive water had been “completely blocked” within a 0.3-square-kilometer (0.11-square-mile) area in the harbor of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
It is better to have a wealthy and thriving neighbor than a struggling one. The fundamental core of all foreign policy is real interest. If the Tokyo Olympics bring even the slightest benefit to Korea, we need to welcome Japan’s hosting. Toward the end of the Lee Myung-bak administration, foreign policy with Japan lacked actual interests, and while Koreans may have felt emotionally satisfied, economically the results were terrible. In the first half of this year, Korea’s exports to Japan decreased by 12 percent compared with the same period last year, while Japan’s exports to Korea went up by 12 percent. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Korea went down by 26 percent, while Koreans visiting Japan increased by 38 percent. The falling value of the yen was not the only reason for these changes.
Koreans like to voice anti-Japanese sentiments while enjoying what Japan has to offer. The Japanese, on the other hand, may not shout out anti-Korean sentiments, but they do know how to put them into action. And the numbers reflect those sentiments.
Let’s look at China. While they growl at Japan, they stop when it conflicts with their real interests. China’s various trade indicators with Japan are very different from Korea’s. We need to learn China’s playbook.
On Sept. 6, the Korean government announced a complete ban on the import and domestic distribution of all fishery products from eight prefectures, including Fukushima, beginning Sept. 9. The ban includes Gunma and Dochigi, inland prefectures which export no fishery products to Korea. It is very absurd. Also, it is problematic that the ban was announced only 40 hours before the Olympic host was announced. If Tokyo did not win the bid, it might have blamed Korea. Even after it was chosen as the host, it still mentioned bringing the case to the World Trade Organization.
The administration may have wanted to ease the worries of merchants before the Chuseok holiday rush. And Prime Minister Chung Hong-won said Korea would “punish those responsible for spreading rumors about Fukushima.” However, if the ban was to be put into effect on Sept. 9, it should have been announced on Sept. 8, after the Olympic host was chosen.
A famous saying, often used by President Park Geun-hye, goes “The devil is in the details.” Even if you are going in the right direction, you could ruin the job with a minor mistake. It is regrettable that both the general direction and the details of Korea-Japan relations are not well thought out.
*The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By KIM HYUN-KI