Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made remarked on export regulations against Korea, saying, “Adjustments have been made based on mutual trust between the two countries.” It is an effective acknowledgement that the control of exports to Korea is a retaliation as Tokyo sees the ruling of the Korean Supreme Court regarding Japan’s use of Korean forced labor during World War II. In response to Korea’s plan to file a case with the World Trade Organization, Abe claimed that the latest measure abides by the World Trade Organization rules and it has nothing to do with free trade. Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has not commented on this issue.
Japan’s argument does not provide valid reasoning. The Japanese government said that export regulation is involved with “negatively affected relationship," while claiming that it is not a retaliatory action but a security measure to control exports. It glosses over a measure to economically retaliate regarding a diplomatic issue as Japan keeps mindful of a case filing to the World Trade Organization. Going beyond that, Tokyo hints that it will expand the range of export control items, raise tariffs and limit visa issuance. Abe seems to be at the forefront of strengthening such a stance amid internal concerns that it will be China that will take advantage of the situation.
Only helplessness and complacency are witnessed in the Korean government’s response. Seoul hadn’t taken any countermeasures despite Tokyo’s notification of economic retaliation, predicting a slim chance for it. While Korean businesses are already left panicked, it takes more than two years for Korea’s sole response of case filing with the World Trade Organization to see a final ruling, which only leads to question over its practicality. Travel restriction on Korean nationals to Japan is also considered one of possible countermeasures but it may only worsen the relationship between the two nations.
The problem is that a diplomatic channel has not played a role in resolving the ever-worsening conflict. The Korean government has done almost nothing about its diplomatic relationship with Japan, while arguing that the administration is not supposed to intervene in the ruling by the Supreme Court of Korea. Against this backdrop, Japan opposed against the ruling from South Korea, saying that the ruling violates international law based on the the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations. Both leaders of state are just mindful of their political supporters not even meeting with each other although they used to say, “Let’s put the future above the past.”
Seoul and Tokyo have been just engaging in emotional conflicts, without making diplomatic efforts, as they had to handle Japan’s long-range patrol issue in the East Sea as well as the Korean Supreme Court ruling. Leading the spread of anti-Korean sentiment explicitly, the Abe administration has held the economy in hostage. The two nations have achieved economic growth of today’s level based on free trade. It is shameful that economic persecution has been made for political purpose, which runs against the value of free trade. Emotional responses due to domestic politics and supporters will not only make both nations a subject of mockery globally and but also serve as a shot in their foot. It is time to stay cool-headed and earnestly endeavor to improve bilateral relationship.