‘Glocal’ cooperation is key to Korea-Japan ties

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‘Glocal’ cooperation is key to Korea-Japan ties

Yang Ki-woong
The author is dean of Hallym University’s Graduate School of Global Cooperation.

Tottori Prefecture of Japan, which faces the East Sea, has a deep historical relationship with Korea. In January 1819, the Akasaki town government of the prefecture rescued a merchant ship that departed from Gangwon Province during the Joseon period. The ship had 12 people on board, including Captain Ahn Eui-ki. The crew stayed in Tottori for three months due to a storm. With the help of Tottori Domain, the ship could return to the Port of Busan via Nagasaki and Tsushima Island. Captain Ahn left a note to express his appreciation for the help.

The rescue story of the captain and his crew has played a decisive role in establishing a sisterhood relationship between Gangwon Province and Tottori Prefecture in 1996. Since then, the two regions have developed a friendship. Tottori Prefecture sent donations 12 times whenever Gangwon Province suffered natural disasters such as the wild fire along the east coast last year. Gangwon Province also sent donations to Tottori after an earthquake hit the region, strengthening their friendship.

But exchanges between the two regional governments were nearly suspended after diplomatic tensions escalated between Seoul and Tokyo in the 2000s. Direct flights between Tottori and Korea were cut off in October 2019 in the aftermath of Japan’s trade restrictions on Korea. The Eastern Dream — a ship traveling between the Donghae Port of Gangwon and Sakaiminato Port in Tottori — also stopped its operation in April 2020.

But the shuttle diplomacy between the two countries’ leaders was restored for the first time in 12 years after President Yoon Suk Yeol presented a solution to solve the wartime forced labor issue in March during his visit to Tokyo and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to Korea in return. Thanks to the developments, expectations grew between local governments of the two countries that their cooperation and exchanges also will soon be restored. Gangwon Province is ready to resume exchanges and cooperation.

The restoration of diplomatic relations owed much to the active role of the United States, shared values between Korea and Japan, rapid changes in the Indo-Pacific region, and the need for a joint response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. Seoul and Tokyo can maximize their gains through mutual cooperation in security issues, including deterrence against North Korea. Just like reconciliation and cooperation between France and Germany, cooperation between Korea and Japan itself can become some kind of public goods in the international community.

The two neighbors also can cooperate on climate, energy and supply chain issues. Smart grids, urban planning for the future, building green hydrogen and ammonia supply chains and achieving carbon neutrality are such areas. When Japan’s material, parts and equipment companies invest in Korea, it can contribute to improving Korea’s trade deficit with Japan and stabilizing chip supply chains in the region.

But bilateral cooperation cannot be completed by diplomacy at the national level alone. In the future, Korea-Japan relations should be approached from the paradigm of sustainable development of regions off the capital, improvement of the quality of life of their residents and strengthening of their competitiveness through “glocal” cooperation. Public diplomacy and glocal cooperation of such regions are having increasingly greater impact on regional economy.

Manchester of England has established ties with major industrial cities in the world — such as Wuhan in China, Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Osaka in Japan — enhancing the city’s attractiveness and successfully attracting investments.

Glocal cooperation can also play a role of buffer zone when competition and confrontation are seen at the national level between countries. After World War II, Germany and France boosted regional exchanges by forming sisterhood ties for their 1,000 cities each. Such a movement led to the “Euro City Network” in Western Europe that boosted cooperation between cities.

Korea and Japan are more desperate for glocal exchanges and cooperation to counter a population decline, disappearance of rural towns and crisis of low growth. Through glocal exchanges and cooperation, regional economies can be vitalized by increasing exports of agricultural and fisheries products, creating jobs, and boosting tourism.

Cooperation between glocal creators — who produce social values through innovation while utilizing natural, environmental and cultural assets of the regions and creative start-up companies — will be possible. Universities also can try to make a bold leap by connecting with the industrial, government and research networks of Japanese cities based on their partnerships with local governments and regional companies.

Small yet competitive companies based in provinces outside the capital regions of Korea and Japan also can develop their hometowns as new global business hubs by expanding economic exchanges such as mutual investments, joint purchases of resources, cooperation of supply networks, people-to-people exchanges, expansion of entries to other countries, and cooperation in new industries. Glocal collaboration between regions of Korea and Japan offers a new possibility of Korea-Japan relations. Sustainable relationship between the two can be established by the two countries’ provinces and cities. It is time to pay attention to the potential of glocal cooperation to open a new frontier of Korea-Japan relations.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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