Unneighborly behavior

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Unneighborly behavior

Korea-Japan relations have hit their bottom. The two countries show signs of boycotting each other’s products. The hostility stems from the clash of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s rightist policies and South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s bid to fuel anti-Japanese sentiment. More specifically, the breakdown took place after the Moon administration nearly scrapped an agreement between Seoul and Tokyo to heal the wounds from the wartime sexual slavery issue and after Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans for forced labor during World War II.

Diplomatic conflicts can be resolved via diplomacy, yet campaign boycotts are capable of irrevocably damaging the private sector in all countries involved. Here, the boycott movement is simultaneously spreading in both countries. The difference is that it takes the form of state-led nationalism in Korea, while it is driven by excessive hatred of Korea in Japan. Simply put, such practices are beneath us.

The Gyeonggi provincial assembly took the lead in the campaign in Korea. The local assembly is pushing for an ordinance requiring primary, middle and high schools in the province to put stickers reading “This product was produced by a Japanese company that was a war criminal!” on goods priced over 200,000 won ($177) in schools. The move is aimed at boycotting products from major Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Such actions are not to be condoned in an open economy like Korea’s.

The government should be held accountable for fueling anti-Japanese sentiment. In an address to commemorate the centennial of the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement, President Moon said attacking others for being communists originated from the Japanese colonial days (1910-45). “People are still using it as a tool for slandering and attacking their political opponents,” he said. His views are disappointing since they suggest an ideological frame in which the liberal administration may attack the conservatives in our society. Choi Jang-jip, professor emeritus of Korea University and an veteran liberal, expressed concerns about the government’s scheme to link pro-Japanese legacies to the conservatives.

A spontaneous campaign among Japanese to boycott Korean products is also picking up steam. Friction between Seoul and Tokyo should be resolved. When Korea faced an unprecedented foreign exchange crisis in 1997, Japan helped us stay afloat. Japan must face the past squarely and Korea must stop exploiting pro-Japanese legacies.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 21, Page 30
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