South Korea is a ‘pitiful country’ that can be left alone without causing any real harm.
There is no sign of improvement in Japan-South Korea relations. There are no prospects for resolution of either the former conscript lawsuit or the radar irradiation incident. Kenichi Omae, a management consultant, explains how Japan should deal with its relationship with South Korea.
What is the best way to deal with this situation?
Three years ago, I cautioned against the view that the Park Geun-hye administration’s agreement to a “final and irreversible solution” to the comfort women issue was a “sign of the thaw”. He then wrote, “Japan does not need to hastily close the distance with South Korea, but should leave it alone unless South Korea’s attitude fundamentally changes.
As it turns out, my “prediction” came true, and not only was the comfort women agreement reneged on by the Moon Jae-in administration, but the former conscript workers issue and the radar irradiation incident have further worsened Japan-South Korea relations.
So what should Japan do from now on? In conclusion, my proposal this time is the same as it was three years ago. Japan should just leave it alone and not get upset like Prime Minister Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. There are many reasons to think so.
Poor country, hated by its own people
For example, in the case of the radar irradiation incident, a look at blogs in South Korea reveals the true intentions of the Korean people, which are different from those reported in the media. For example, in the case of the radar irradiation incident, a look at blogs in South Korea reveals a different truth from that reported by the media: “It seems that the South Korean Navy and Maritime Police Agency were either refueling or raping North Korean fishing boats,” “They won’t help South Korean fishing boats but will help North Korean fishing boats,” and “They must have been in a hurry to get rid of the SDF plane so they wouldn’t be blamed for violating UN sanctions.
South Korean public opinion is surprisingly healthy on the Internet, and many citizens have doubts about the South Korean government’s response. But that is why the South Korean government stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the radar irradiation.
In addition, the issue of former conscripts, for which Nippon Steel Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have been ordered to pay damages, is of high interest only to a small segment of the Korean public, and is not as exciting as the comfort women issue.
In the first place, the former conscripted workers may have applied themselves for the projects that were being recruited in the form of “government mediation” because the salary in Japan at that time was almost double that of the Korean Peninsula. If this is the case, it is difficult to say that they were forcibly “conscripted” by the Japanese government, and it seems that this is a case where the essential preconditions need to be investigated and confirmed.
Furthermore, at the end of last year, 1,103 former conscript workers filed a collective lawsuit with the Seoul Central District Court seeking compensation of approximately 10 million yen per worker from their own government. For the Moon Jae-in administration, the issue of former conscript workers has “boomeranged” back on itself.
In addition to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, more and more Japanese companies are expected to become targets of lawsuits, but even if Japanese companies have their assets seized in South Korea, the impact will be limited.
In the case of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation, for example, of the approximately 2.34 million shares it holds in a joint venture it established with South Korean steel giant POSCO, only about 81,000 shares are reported to be worth the amount of compensation to some plaintiffs. In some cases, there is an option to reconsider the partnership. If the seizure leads to a series of Japanese companies withdrawing from South Korea, it will be South Korea that will be in trouble.
On the other hand, there are some in Japan who are calling for “severing diplomatic relations” with South Korea and even “restricting visa-free travel. However, I don’t think that is a good idea. This is because there are many South Koreans who want to come to Japan regardless of the government’s stance.
According to statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), the number of tourists from South Korea visiting Japan in 2018 increased by about 400,000 from the previous year to about 7.54 million. This is the second largest number after China’s approximately 8.38 million, accounting for 24% of the total number (approximately 31.19 million). In other words, Japan continues to be “pro-Japanese” at the national level, and it is Japan that will lose out if crossings and visa-free travel are restricted. The customer is truly “God,” and any action that reduces this is against the national interest.
Above all, we must keep in mind that South Korea has the highest number of citizens (probably the highest among developed countries) who want to leave the country.
As I have already pointed out, many Koreans actually hate their country. This is because the country is dominated by nepotistic hiring practices that leave no hope or dreams for those without money and connections, and one cannot live a prosperous life unless one becomes an employee of a large conglomerate or a bureaucrat. There is even a term for this unreasonable reality, “Hell Korea,” and the fact that the country is so hated by its own people makes it a “pitiful country. That’s why they can’t get along without making Japan their “foreign enemy” and saying bad things about it.
Moreover, South Korea is a country that is ridiculed as being ruled by the “National Emotional Law” [*]. If Japan were to respond to such a country with a straightforward argument or point out a sore spot, it would be met with resentment.
This is a term that ironically refers to the social climate in South Korea, where the legal principle of punishment for crimes tends to break down as sentences are decided according to public opinion. It means that the executive, legislature, and judiciary can make decisions and render judgments that are not bound by the actual law as long as they are in line with public sentiment.
Since there is little harm to Japan even if left alone, and since South Korea is a grateful customer that accounts for a quarter of all inbound tourism, the wisest choice is to remain calm.