The emergence of a new alliance
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
What are the biggest risks? According to the famous analysis by former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, they are “unknown unknowns.” We can prepare for known risks, but we cannot prepare for unidentified risks.
Stupefied by economic troubles and the North Korea issue, South Korea is facing “unknown unknowns.” Although a crisis is unfolding outside the country, it has no idea; the crisis I am talking about is the unprecedented coalition between China and Japan, which emerged about a month ago.
Five days before the Supreme Court’s ruling to order a Japanese company to compensate Koreans forced into labor during the colonial period, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited China on Oct. 25 for the first time since he took office in 2012. In his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping the next day, the two leaders agreed that the two countries will help each other. On the surface, it seems like just an ordinary overseas trip.
But the itinerary was significant. Abe attended a special meeting with 200 Japanese businessmen during the trip for the first China-Japan Third Party Market Cooperation Forum. The two countries want to cooperate in various business endeavors around the world. The two sides have already achieved much.
Some of the successful cases presented at the forum included the Dubai power plant project, worth 800 billion won ($708.3 million) and the largest solar energy project in history. Japan’s Marubeni and China’s Jinko Solar created a consortium and won the bid against competitive American and European companies. State-run Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) and Hanwha Q Cells formed a team and participated in the bid, but it ended up in last place.
More surprisingly, China and Japan already agreed to cooperate on 50 projects across the world. Korea’s construction and renewable energy companies are now facing the behemoths of the China-Japan alliance.
After the 2008 global financial crisis, Japan tried to cooperate with Korean companies. In Japan, the idea was that it would make sense to enter third markets by cooperating with Korean companies. Over 50 Korea-Japan cooperative projects, including a gas project in Indonesia, proved successful.
But the mood in Japan has completely changed. No one talks about cooperating with Korea now, while everyone is talking about cooperating with China. For the One-Belt, One-Road project, China needs Japan’s capital. And Japan is in desperate need of new markets in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s protectionism. Therefore, their interests align.
To this end, Tokyo asked Beijing to participate in the ongoing infrastructure development projects in Africa, and it received a positive reply. Japanese companies are undertaking environmental projects in many provinces in China. Due to their ongoing territorial disputes and history issues, there seemed to be no prospect that China and Japan would improve their relations. In international politics, however, there are no eternal enemies and no eternal friends. If the current mood continues, it is just a matter of time until the China-Japan alliance grows stronger.
Korea brought the current crisis upon itself.
Because the government abandoned the “comfort women” deal last year, the emotions between Korea and Japan soured to the extreme.
After the ruling on the conscripted laborers last month, the government announced on Nov. 21, 2018 that it will dismantle the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, funded by the Japanese government to compensate the wartime sex slavery victims, dealing a fatal blow to the bilateral relations.
On Nov. 29, the Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries forced laborers case. If the top court delivers a ruling against the company, not only will Japan’s direct investment in Korea decline, but so too will cooperative projects between the two countries in other nations.
There are hopeful expectations that Japanese companies in Korea won’t respond to a ruling against Mitsubishi Heavy. But that is a serious misconception: the close ties between China and Japan are the proof.
That’s why we should hurry and devise a plan regarding comfort women and forced laborer rulings.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 27, Page 30