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Politics & Security

To Set Issues Straight, Japan’s Best Bet is to Talk Directly to the South Korean Public

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South Korean protesters stage a rally to denounce Japan's new trade restrictions on South Korea in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Japan's Cabinet on Friday approved the removal of South Korea from a list of countries with preferential trade status, prompting retaliation from Seoul where a senior official summoned the Japanese ambassador and told him that South Koreans may no longer consider Japan a friendly nation. The placards read: "We denounce Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

 

~Despite the many issues that involve both countries, Japan has rarely expressed its stance in a proactive manner. It is time for Japan to put an end to stepping around South Korea.~

 

South Korea’s bizarre level of concern over radiation issues linked to the Fukushima nuclear accident is not exclusively down to anti-Japanese sentiment.

 

In recent years, South Korea’s younger generations have become increasingly concerned about issues such as food safety, environmental pollution, and health — which partly explains the country’s heightened sensitivity over radiation. 

 

For example, there was uproar recently when radioactive radon was detected in domestically produced beds in South Korea. Tens of thousands of beds were subsequently thrown on the scrap heap and left out in the open — a photo of which is still very clear in my mind.

 

When Japan is involved, though, an anti-Japanese mood of “disgraceful Japan” tends to rise to the surface. In particular, if the case is Fukushima-related, some people in South Korea seemingly regard that as a weakness, and use it as a point from which to verbally attack Japan.

 

For example, South Korean media and citizen groups have spread rumors about the Tokyo Olympics being the “Radioactive Olympics,” based on the fact that Olympic baseball will take place in Fukushima and food from the prefecture will feature in the Olympic Village.

 

Recently, there has been a South Korean backlash against Japan’s plans over the release of effluents from Fukushima into the ocean. The media, citizen groups, and the government have taken the issue to Japan, claiming that ocean currents will carry these effluents to South Korea and inflict radioactive harm.

 

The radical environmental organization Greenpeace has been fanning the flames on this issue, but South Korea is the only nation that is openly critical of Japan.

 

In response to South Korea’s claims, Japan has attempted to put forward constructive counterarguments, and the embassy of Japan in Seoul recently held a news conference for the South Korean media.

 

After the conference, some sections of the media wrote malicious headlines about the Fukushima effluent situation. However, the majority went with headlines such as “Only South Korea is Anti.”

 

The news conference was possibly the first time that Japan was able to convey the Japanese government’s stance — including plans accepted by the international community — to the South Korean public. The effectiveness of the conference was arguably the embassy of Japan in Seoul’s first major “hit.”

 

Under the leadership of ex-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese government tried hard to convey its policies and stance to the international community, but it stepped back from South Korea on certain issues on the grounds of “not wanting to stoke anti-Japanese sentiment.”

 

This is reminiscent of an incident in 2005. 

 

In that particular year, the then-ambassador to South Korea, Toshiyuki Takano, stated that Takeshima belonged to Japan at a gathering of foreign correspondents in Seoul. Takano’s statement triggered a backlash across South Korea’s public and private sectors, with comments such as, “Japan’s ambassador is delusional in the middle of Seoul.” 

 

Subsequently, the Japanese embassy toned down its stance, stating, “We will not be making any specific comments about territorial rights going forward.” 

 

There are several issues that involve both Japan and South Korea: Takeshima, textbooks, comfort women, wartime labor, UNESCO world heritage, the name of the Sea of Japan, the Rising Sun flag. However, Japan has rarely expressed its stance in a proactive manner on South Korean soil to the South Korean public.

 

Japan must not be afraid. The country should appeal directly to the South Korean public by using tools such as the media. It is time for Japan to put an end to stepping around South Korea.

 

(Find access to the original column in Japanese here.)

 

Author: Katsuhiro Kuroda

Katsuhiro Kuroda is a visiting editorial writer in Seoul for The Sankei Shimbun