Diplomacy neededKorea-Japan relations are in the worst state since normalization of diplomatic ties in 1965. Japan must withdraw its decision to remove Korea from a list of countries eligible for preferential treatment in trade as soon as possible. Though weaponization of trade can serve as a tool to threaten a neighbor, it can also backfire.
Only four hours after Japan’s decision to exclude Korea from the so-called white list, President Moon Jae-in declared a war against Japan. Korean people’s outrage about Japan’s reckless move can be understood. But a state leader must take a calm and strategic approach to every challenge and take it as an opportunity to overcome Japan. That is the responsibility of a head of state. It does not help to encourage anti-Japanese sentiment.
Despite his declaration of a full-fledged war on Japan, a vow alone cannot win the war. Cool-headed and realistic strategies are needed to reduce Korea’s heavy reliance on basic materials and parts needed to produce semiconductors and displays. Despite repeated slogans to achieve technological independence, Korea failed because of its reliance on the more efficient global supply chain. Moreover, domestic production of such essential materials or parts is not possible over a short period of time.
What is most urgent is to minimize shocks to our industries. The government and ruling party have vowed to foster the materials industry, reinforce cooperation between large and small companies, and encourage innovation in our manufacturing sector. But promises can hardly ease the deepening concerns of local businesses. The government must ease the stifling 52-hour workweek along with other policies, including extending tax benefits for local companies.
In an alarming development, Rep. Lee In-young, floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, stressed the need to check if the Shinzo Abe administration is attempting to revive militarism by collaborating with Koreans friendly with Japan. That’s an overly emotional comment. His remarks do not make any sense today.
Due to its geopolitical situation, Korea must live with Japan. The government must think again before rushing to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) — a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact — with Japan. It can serve as a useful card to pressure Japan, but hurt the security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. The longer the economic war lasts, the more damage both countries suffer. Korea and Japan must overcome this crisis through diplomacy.