Say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands

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Say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands


Nam Jeong-ho

In May 1891, Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, visited Japan with his cousin Prince George of Greece and Denmark. They were riding on a rickshaw to Kyoto when Nicholas was attacked. One of the escort policemen named Sanzo Tsuda turned out to be an assassin and struck him with a saber. The injury was not life-threatening, but he bled seriously and was left with a scar.

As there were rumors of Russia’s retaliation, Japan became nervous. The Japanese Emperor visited Nicholas in the hospital in Osaka at once, and schools around Japan were closed. Many Japanese wished for his recovery at shrines, and 10,000 get-well cards arrived. The attacker’s hometown, Kaneyama, legally banned the use of “Tsuda” and “Sanzo” in names. A divorcee in her 20s committed suicide to “apologize with death.” Because of Japan’s response, Russia did not pursue the incident further.

However, Nicholas despised the Japanese, calling them “monkeys” throughout his life. Later, he became Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and fought Japan in the Russo-Japanese War. The 1904 war aggravated the relationship between the two countries. Japan won the war, but it lost 110,000 soldiers, three times more than Russia. Anti-Russian sentiment in Japan climaxed during World War II. Six days before the end of the war, the Soviet Union broke the nonaggression pact and attacked Japanese-held Manchuria. The Kuril Islands were also captured. In the past two or three years, China-Japan relations have been aggravated, but traditionally, the Japanese have frowned upon Russia.

Partly because of the old grudge, Japan is actively punishing Russia over the Ukraine crisis. In March, all negotiations with Russia broke off, and on April 29, 23 Russian government officials were banned from entering Japan. Major industries are backing the Japanese government’s policy, and banks have suspended transactions with Russia. As the United States has also been on bad terms with Russia, Washington should find the Japanese government and private sector praiseworthy for taking their side.

Korea and Japan are America’s key allies in Northeast Asia, and it is likely that Korea will now be pressured to follow Japan’s moves, just as it did for sanctions against Iran.

Should Korea join the front? Korea’s relationship with Russia is not comparable to that of Japan. In 2012, Japan’s dependence on foreign trade was 28 percent, while Korea’s was 94 percent. Reducing economic exchanges with Russia poses far greater risk to Korea.

As Europe, which had been Russia’s biggest trade partner, grows distant, Russia has turned to East Asia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has advocated the revival of Eastern Russia, and now he must seek cooperation with East Asia. A source who recently visited Vladivostok said, “The region has a population of 600,000, but they are constructing roads that can easily serve two million.” The Park Geun-hye administration dreams of connecting Busan to Europe by rail through the Eurasia Initiative. It would be a great loss if the plan was hindered by America’s influence.

When Korea took part in sanctions on Iran, it had to assume a serious loss. Also, Korea is about to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which intends to block out China, despite the criticism for no substantial benefit. These decisions were made in consideration of the United States.

Nevertheless, Washington seems to think that Seoul hasn’t done anything to help. An op-ed by a conservative figure in the Financial Times before President Barack Obama’s Asia tour revealed dissatisfaction.

In a piece titled “Obama’s Asian allies need to give something back,” the former Department of Commerce adviser claimed that most Asian countries “have based their development on mercantilist export-led growth policies, using protectionism and currency manipulation to generate huge trade surpluses with the U.S.” He wrote, “The president should ask them what they are prepared to do for America.”

Let’s do the math. Is the United States suffering from growing deficit because of unfair trade or lack of effort by American companies? The United States likes to argue that its deficits are growing because of unfair trade practices. When the Japanese economy boomed in the 1980s, America struggled with an astronomical trade deficit. Across America, protesters destroyed Japanese cars with hammers. But Japan laid the blame on the lax management of American companies. For example, Japanese houses are tiny, but U.S. companies tried to sell large-capacity models only.

Corporate America hasn’t changed much. Instead of working to accommodate regulations in foreign markets, they call for the removal of such regulations. When President Obama came to Korea, he mentioned the low carbon vehicle incentive system. Vehicles with low carbon dioxide emission are provided with subsidies, while cars that produce pollutants are fined. The system’s effect on greenhouse gas emission reduction has been proven in Europe. But U.S. automobile industries try to eliminate or dodge the “good-intentions” system instead of making efforts to improve the performance of their cars. Efficient European carmakers are not complaining about the regulations.

Do we always have to be dragged by the United States? It may even ask Korea to cut off trade with Russia. Korea is a staunch ally of America, but should be able to say “no” to unreasonable demands.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 28

*The author is a senior reporter of international news at the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Nam Jeong-ho

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