Exploiting nationalism

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Exploiting nationalism

The Korean industry has been shaken by Japan’s export restrictions on three core materials needed for chip and display production. Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, has flown to Japan to study Tokyo’s intentions and future moves. President Moon Jae-in rounded up leaders of the top 30 business groups on Wednesday to formulate a joint strategy. Political and business leaders have to unite and share wisdom in times of crisis.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) belatedly launched a special committee to study the ramifications of the Supreme Court rulings made in October, which ordered Japanese companies to compensate individuals for their forced wartime labor. However, whether the committee is really aimed at helping the government find a solution remains unknown. Rep. Choi Jae-sung, chair of the special committee, said the situation calls for a “civilian rebellion” against a foreign attack. He was more or less encouraging a consumer boycott.

In the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the people had to raise their own army to fight Japanese invaders because the royal court and the military could not defend them. Korean businesses and citizens today are on their own again and helplessly exposed to attacks from Japan because the government idly sat back and stayed clueless until Tokyo mounted a powerful retaliation. Still, this is no time to resort to public action. Those in power must demonstrate strength and capability to ease the public, not stir them.

Park Beom-gye, a senior lawmaker of the DP, wrote on Facebook that there are still some Koreans who “like Japan” more than necessary. Any critic to the government’s policy on Japan is stigmatized as pro-Japanese by the liberals. There is no need to be over-indulgent with the Japanese, but it is also outdated to believe that being anti-Japanese is patriotic and just. An ideological response will only push Japan farther to the right.

There have been some boycotts and voluntary cancellations of trips to Japan. It is naïve to believe that an emotional response will move Tokyo. Some heated comments from ruling party lawmakers can only fuel the Japanese people’s support for the nationalistic policy. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may be waiting for a fiery response from Korea for his cabinet to ratchet up retaliatory action. Sensible politicians should ask the public not to get caught up in a diplomatic row. Resorting to nationalism is only falling into a trap.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 9, Page 30
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