Emotional rhetoric is no help

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Emotional rhetoric is no help

As the Korea-Japan relationship sours, it becomes increasingly challenging for a Korean to gather news stories in Japan.

When I was assigned the job of Tokyo correspondent in August 2011, the atmosphere was better than now. Thanks to the Korean Wave, I was welcomed everywhere. But dark clouds began to gather when former President Lee Myung-bak visited the Dokdo islets and demanded an apology from the Japanese emperor. Since the beginning of the Shinzo Abe administration, dark clouds have turned into a storm.

The Japanese people have grown just as sensitive as the Koreans. When the Korean government banned imports of Japanese fish products because of the radiation leaks from a nuclear plant, I could feel the elevated tension in Japan.

For a Fukushima special on JTBC last month, I conducted a street survey in downtown Tokyo. I walked around the streets of Ginza with a signboard asking if people felt uneasy about eating fish after the nuclear power plant crisis. I expected it would cause trouble, and a security guard at a construction site warned us to stay away from the area when he learned we were working for the Korean media. A gentle-looking middle-aged man spat at us. The Japanese people, usually stoic, responded sensitively.

Recently, I had an unpleasant experience with the Japanese media. A newspaper published an article on the opening ceremony of the Korea-Japan Festival at Hibiya Park in Tokyo on Sept. 21. “Korean media encouraged anti-Japanese sentiment,” the headline said. The article claimed that while our ambassador, Lee Byung-kee, asked the attendees to look past confrontations and unite, some Korean reporters asked ill-natured questions about Dokdo and sex slaves. I did not contribute to the slant of the article because I asked Ambassador Lee a reasonable question: “Akie Abe, the prime minister’s wife, is here. What do you think is the meaning of her involvement?”

Considering the unprecedentedly aggravated relationship between the two countries, emotional confrontations cannot be completely avoided. But each move should be carefully calculated. Reckless attacks that anger the other side can be met with an immediate counterstrike.

It is worrisome that Koreans also make sloppy emotional attacks. Recently, a Japanese animation master, Hayao Miyazaki, announced his retirement, and some Koreans speculated that his discontent with Prime Minister Abe may have inspired his retirement. Japanese media reported this view as an example of the often ungrounded criticism of Japan by Koreans.

The minister in charge of the ban on Japanese fish products has been inconsistent. At first, he seemed to support Japan’s claim: “Scientifically speaking, I think there is no problem at present,” he said. But then came severe criticism; he began calling Japan “unethical.” When we lack logic and consistency, we are no better than the Japanese government, which is lying to the whole world that the pollution issue at the nuclear site is under control.

*The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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