The relationship between South Korea and Japan over the years, has not been as smooth as it should for the benefit of the two countries, the continent of Asia and the world at large. This argument is validated by the historical and trade disputes between the two Asian countries over the years.
The relationship between Korea and Japan could best be described more or less as a tit-for-tat one. As recent as 2nd July, 2019, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) of Japan tightened and imposed restrictions on exports of some materials used in making semiconductors and display panels to South Korea. These included fluorinated polyimide, resist and hydrogen fluoride. The Japan export-restrictive measures came as a shock to South Korea because the announcement was made without any consultation with them. South Korea was still trying to swallow the hard pill, when Japan threw another sunday punch on 28 August, 2019 by finally removing South Korea from its whitelist of trading countries. Though callous and inciting, it is however speculated that the actions from Japan were retaliatory. Probably, Japan's actions against South Korea could be a fallout of the October 2018 ruling by the South Korean Supreme court against Japanese companies in favour of South Koreans conscripted during the World War II.
South Korea has however called for a dialogue after the announcement on July 2, but that has proved abortive. On Aug 15, in a speech to mark the 74th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japan's rule, South Korean President, Moon Jae-in said "If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands". Similarly, the Ambassador of South Korea to Nigeria, Mr Lee In Tae on 9th Aug 2019 addressed the members of the press, at the South Korean Embassy, Nigeria. He stated categorically that South Korea wants dialogue with Japan. It is pertinent to note that too much begging makes one lose the power of negotiation. A bilateral tie should be a win-win result. If the relationship between two countries becomes lopsided, the country with upper hand takes advantage of the other. South Korea is really pushing for dialogue and cooperation. If Japan does not see the need for a dialogue, South Korea should stop pushing for dialogue in order not to lose its power of negotiation.
From a distance, it looks as though South Korea cannot hurt a fly. However, South Korea has thrown several blows on Japan by removing them from its "whitelist" of trusted trade partners, boycotting Japanese products, launching Military exercise for Islets also claimed by Japan amongst others. The Japanese took to the street to protest. In what was the last straw that broke the camel's back, South Korea on 22nd August announced that it was abandoning a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan. The announcement attracted attention globally. The intelligence-sharing deal between South Korea and Japan, which was signed in 2016 was part of the United States' efforts to ensure tight monitoring of North Korea’s missile activity.
The eye-for-an-eye feud between Korea and Japan is an ill wind that blows no one any good. This recent military decision of Korea will weaken the United States alliance in that region. The Japan’s foreign minister, Taro Kono, described the decision of South Korea as “extremely regrettable". US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo expressed the disappointment of the US with Korea's decision.
Irrespecive of what anyone thinks about Korea's decision, South Korea is within its rights to react in anyway it chooses in its bid to protect its territory. In a dispute, there are no rules, no DOs and DON'Ts. Are there universally standard for engaging in dispute? When someone throws a punch, he does not dictate how his opponent should reacts to his punch. A drowning man will cling at anything including straw.
The relationship between Korea and Japan has gone sour. If the feud between the two Asian countries is not nipped in the bud, the effect will be rippling. It is advisable at this point, for the two countries to reach a consensus and settle the underlying issues. Of course, when two elephants fight, the grasses suffer. The eye-for-an-eye fight will cripple the countries' economy and to some extent affect the world at large. According to Jesper Koll, senior advisor at Asset Management Company WisdomTree Investments in Japan "The continued disagreement between the two East Asian powerhouses is going to damage both countries' economies across multiple industries". For instance, South Korea is home to LG and other reputable electronic companies. The export restriction by Japan has slowed down the production rates by these companies. LG company had disclosed that it may be affected by tough business conditions and uncertainties spurred by both the U.S.-China trade war and the Japan-Korea dispute.
South Korea has worked tenaciously to achieve a stable economy. The economy will surely be affected by the new developments. South Korea should learn a thing or two. No one tests the depth of water with both feet. The Republic of Korea should secure themselves against outside pressure. Japan knows the impact its export-restrictions wil have on South Korea, that was why they struck. Japan produces 90% of the materials used in making semiconductors globally and have enjoyed monopoly. South Korea should look for alternative markets, as no one put all his eggs in one basket. Even if Japan and South Korea should reconcile, Japan could still use the export restrictions as a tool for blackmail. South Korea should spread their tentacles by getting alternative markets. The international community should help to broker peace between the Republic of Korea and Japan.
Written by Mercy Mma Agbagha
Korea.net Honorary Reporter