Logic wins the day
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Korea’s appeals win from the World Trade Organization (WTO) last week against Japan to defend its imports ban on sea catches from the waters near the Fukushima nuclear complex following the 2011 meltdown has meaning beyond the trade front. The feat has riled Japan’s innate prejudice against Koreans.
The Japanese have come to believe Koreans are extremely emotional and illogical on bilateral issues, given their response to territorial disputes and historical themes like forced labor and so-called comfort women. But the WTO ruling has proven how logical Korea can be. The WTO has found Seoul’s ban on seafood imports from Japan valid on international standards and scientific grounds.
In 2006, the police reported a horrendous crime when two new-born babies were abandoned in a basement freezer in a villa in Seorae Village, a posh expat neighborhood in Banpo-dong, southern Seoul. Police traced the murder to the French hostess of the house as the infants’ DNA matched hers.
But the French authorities refused to believe one of their highly-educated nationals could have committed such an atrocity. The French forensic report however showed the same result. When the mother confessed to killing the newborns, French papers criticized the French elites for presuming Korea — a democratic society and the12th largest economy in the world at the time — could have plotted to frame a foreign national.
International perception and opinions about a certain nation and its nationals can be swayed by economic scales. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Japan’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in terms of purchasing power last year was at $44,227 to rank 28th in global scale. Korea with $41,351 was 29th. Korea may soon overtake Japan in economic scale at purchasing power parity, given Korea’s annualized GDP growth of 2.6 percent versus Japan’s 1.0 percent.
The WTO victory clearly shows Seoul won’t be bossed around or taken for granted.
It is Tokyo which has responded irrationally to its defeat. Even as the WTO delivered a final victory for Seoul by overturning a lower court ruling, Japan refused to accept the “extremely regrettable” ruling “that did not acknowledge that Korea’s measures comply with the WTO rules.” It vowed to take actions to reform the WTO and demanded Korea “correct its policy.”
Japan may have been sure of its win against Korea because of its track record. According to a government report in 2015, Japan was involved in 16 disputes that went to the WTO arbitration panel, of which it has won 15.
After the Korea Supreme Court upheld rulings in favor of plaintiffs demanding greater compensation for unpaid and underpaid labor from Japanese companies during the colonial days last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized them for disavowing international norms and pledged to take counteractions according to international laws. Yet Tokyo goes on denying an international finding when it went against its favor.
Its actions cannot help. The Abe administration wants to take the forced labor spat to the World Court, or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Some in Korea also think it would be better to turn to international arbitration to settle the dispute instead of wrangling over it between the two nations. But the rationale to go to the ICJ could weaken if Tokyo finds fault in international arbitration ruling.
It is ironic that Japan has taken Korea’s seafood ban to the WTO. The country and its people are known to be conscious and picky about food safety. Korea in 2008 lifted a ban on American beef from cattle less than 30 months old following the 2003 U.S. incident of mad cow disease. Japan only lifted it in 2013. Yet it complains of “arbitrary or unjustifiable” discrimination about Korea’s partial import on seafood on fears of radioactive contamination.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono claimed the import restriction was meaningless when over 7.5 million Koreans visit Japan and enjoy food in the country. His comment also is contradictory as the number of Japanese tourists visiting America totaled 3.7 million in 2012 when it imposing a beef import ban. Tokyo must respect Seoul’s judgment and policy backed by reason and logic. Otherwise, it is only hurting itself with self-contradiction and self-justification.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 16, Page 30