No time for animosity
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Sour sentiments toward Japan have resurfaced as coronavirus cases rose there. “The door to hell has opened wide. The toll will soon reach 10,000,” read one post on social media. “We should not offer help no matter what,” read another. Where were Koreans who donated more than 56 billion won ($46 million) when a gigantic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis hit Japan in 2011?
By the time another massive earthquake hit Japan in 2016, the altruistic mood had dissipated. Instead, anti-Japan sentiment had been stoked over the longstanding disputes over comfort women and the Dokdo islets. Aged wartime victims Kim Bok-dong and Gil Won-ok, former sex slaves, stepped in by offering donations of 1.3 million won to help Japanese and they reminded others that their quarrel was with the Japanese government, not the people.
The rapid spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) in Japan should worry us not just from a humanitarian perspective. As many as 600,000 Japanese are of Korean descent. Over 17,000 Koreans study there. Some may think the woes of the Japanese economy and its companies as a result of the outbreak could actually benefit Korea in terms of increased exports and more market share of products on global markets. But Japanese companies are just one part of global competition. There is no guarantee that Korean companies could steal away any market share of Japanese rivals no matter how the situation develops.
If the Japanese economy slips into a recession, Korea will inevitably be affected negatively. Key components and chemicals that go into our electronics and other strategic products come from Japan. If Japan’s part of the supply chain stops, Korea’s future growth engines — such as hydrogen vehicles, artificial intelligence and battery production — could all be stalled.
Many third-tier lenders in Korea raise funds from Japan. About 40 percent of 17.3 trillion won in loans raised by Korean third-tier lenders — or 6.6 trillion won — came from Japan as of the end of 2018. Japanese capital could pull out of Korea if money runs out in Japan. The lower class in Korea who cannot easily get loans from banks will have no one else to turn to for quick money. Any wrecking of the Japanese economy by the virus is bad news for Korea, plain and simple.
In a recent seminar comparing Japanese and Korean responses to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) advised the two governments to cooperate in a joint battle to set a good example to the global society. Sheila Smith, an expert on foreign policy at CFR, said that Korea and Japan were the first democratic states to face Covid-19 and could achieve a lot if experts in both countries join forces.
In Yemen last week, a two-week cease-fire was declared by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that has been fighting the pro-Iranian Houthis, citing the threat of the ongoing pandemic. Diseases stopped wars in the past. The British and French laid down their weapons during the Hundred Years’ War from 1350 in the face of the bubonic plague.
Regardless of their deep-seated conflict over past or ongoing issues, Korea and Japan must make a truce. Despite the surge in confirmed cases, Japan is an undeniable powerhouse in basic medicine. The country produced four Noble Prize laureates in physiology and medicine. Japan last week unveiled portable extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO life-saving support, for critical virus-stricken patients.
All eyes are on East Asia to fight the outbreak. The rest of the world hopes that some kind of solution can come out from the region. The Moon Jae-in administration must pave the way for experts from the two countries to come together.
Korea has invited Japanese nationals on the chartered planes bringing home Koreans stranded in Madagascar, Cameroon, Kenya and the Philippines. We must not let our closest neighbor turn into an epicenter for contagious disease.