GFJ Commentary

April 25, 2019 

Japan-Korea Relations May Not Need An Easy Mending

By OKAMOTO Hiroaki

Annoying neighbors are always stressful. They may trespass my own property, stare at my garden as if to carry out covert surveillance or they may even exude unsavory odor or display some hazardous materials, etc. Anything they do could be conducive to a mounting sense of frustration. These daily squabbles between neighbors, however, can easily settled by appealing to court, police or relevant public authorities, or you can simply move out. But in the case of cross-strait relations between Japan and South Korea, the two governments seem to be mired in utter communication failure: they generate a chain reaction of negativity through outright denial of each other’s statements.

Despite an hour long meeting of Foreign Ministers, Mr. Kono of Japan and Ms. Kang Kyung-wha of Korea, held the other day after a while in Davos, Switzerland, it looked like both sides ended up only expressing what they wanted say. Which means, there was no solution found to improve the relations of the two countries. When it comes to the leaders of both countries, meeting of Prime Minister Abe and President Moon does not seem like a good idea now. While both are looking other directions, forcibly making them look the same way will ‘break their neck.’ By looking back, the argument of Japan and Korea have always been different on, for example, issues of comfort women, forced-labor during the war, or various historical facts, and their gap has only kept getting wider. When I make a business deal with Korean people, they tend to say positively that they will do this and that. But when I ask them after some time to see what happened to those proposals, they would say “I don’t know,” or other person comes in and say that the previous person might have said so, but that’s no longer acceptable. Such rule change without consultation sometimes occur.

So, what to do with Japan-Korea relations? We have thought in many ways, and I have written in many ways. I have explored the history, and have done business with Korean people. What I can say now is, after all, there is ups and downs between our relationship; most of the time it is cloudy, and sunshine sometimes sheds light between the clouds which is the good time. As such, they as sovereign nations shall keep their distance from each other, and deal with each other calmly and solemnly. The economic, cultural or social cooperation by the government shall be limited to ones necessary. Japan-Korea relations is regarded as the most crucial one for the regional security, but it is possible that such landscape would be overturned depending on how the diplomatic issue of North Korea would be developed. Some Japanese private businesses which have expanded their business in Korea wish the bilateral relations be strengthened, though the business can be strengthened case by case. The Japan-Korea relations need to be squared at one point, then the remaining issues shall be solved through, for example, with a framework that involves a third party and dealt with through logics and international standard, not just to express one’s opinion, no matter how long it would take. Regarding the case of Korean navy vessel allegedly directing the fire-control radar at Japan’s maritime patrol aircraft, it is hard to judge this case, because there was no actual casualty and property damages caused. This event got a lot of attention, because it was on the news. However, the media should realize it was not a matter that ordinary people shall comment something on. Sorry to say but would anyone other than the expert have understood the “sound” from the aircraft communication made public?

In the contemporary society where the globalization is ongoing but the court system is not well-functioning for the case of the international disputes, the globalization has a serious deficiency: there is no means to troubleshoot, while the narrative is positively exaggerated. While maintaining the inter-governments’ routine meetings or dialogues, the Japan-Korea relations shall be limited case by case, as well-said cliché goes “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” There should be something private business can help improve the situation, as was the case before with the popularity on Korean dramas, e.g. “Winter Sonata,” or K-Pops. In such sense, the proposal by some lawmakers to revise visa exemption is nothing but an idiotic idea to force the private sectors the responsibility of the disharmony within the bureaucracy.

(This is an English translation of the article written by OKAMOTO Hiroaki, an overseas business owner, which originally appeared on the e-forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu (Hundred Views in Full Perspective)” of GFJ on January 30, 2019.)