The Japanese news media are awash with comments about this country’s relationship with South Korea.
Even though the proliferation of arguments on the topic was triggered by new strains in bilateral ties, we welcome the active debate on Japan’s diplomacy with its neighbor.
But there are many worrisome elements in one increasingly pronounced trend in public discourse about South Korea.
Certain media outlets seem to be trying to stir up hatred toward South Korea, a sentiment often referred to as “kenkan” in Japan.
Japan’s relationship with the Korean Peninsula has a long and deep history. At times, both sides benefited from the relationship through the spread of civilization and trade. There was also a period when Japan colonized the peninsula.
Inevitably, conflict between the two countries undermines the international standing of both sides while cooperation increases the chances of the two countries prospering together.
But certain media outlets have used a plethora of expressions apparently designed to make Japan emotionally detached from this neighboring country.
The October issue of the “Bungei Shunju” monthly, for instance, carried a feature whose title roughly translates as “Rupture between Japan and South Korea: fury and betrayal on the Korean Peninsula.” The April extra issue of “WiLL,” a monthly publication, ran a feature titled “Countdown to South Korea’s disappearance in 202X.”
The Shukan Post weekly published by Shogakukan Inc. earlier this month carried a series of feature articles under the overarching title of “Goodbye to Annoying Neighbor, We Don’t Need South Korea.”
With bilateral ties trapped in a downward spiral, it is the media’s role to discuss how diplomacy between the two countries should be conducted by looking at the issue from various perspectives.
But articles simply designed to denounce the other side do not lead to constructive debate.
The Post also ran an article titled, “’Pathology of the South Koreans,’ who cannot control anger.”
While the article was premised on an academic paper published in South Korea, referring to the “pathology” of the South Koreans as a race is nothing less than racist.
Negative comments about South Korea are also proliferating in television programs.
In a program aired last month by CBC Television Co., a Nagoya-based local broadcaster affiliated with Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., a commentator, discussing a recent assault on a Japanese female tourist in South Korea by a South Korean man who grabbed her by the hair, said, “Japanese men should also assault South Korean women when they come to Japan.” The program later apologized for the comment.
If publishers and broadcasters use comments designed to provide a release to public anger and frustration at South Korea in an attempt to sell magazines and bolster ratings, their pride and integrity as “public vehicles” for debate deserve to be called into question.
Political leaders on both sides are, of course, as much to blame for the deplorable situation.
Both governments have only exchanged criticism without talking about the fundamental principle of seeking friendly bilateral ties in the face of various obstacles.
Efforts by the two governments to galvanize public support, as well as the media’s moves to follow their lead, are creating a growing and dangerous drumbeat of accusations against the other side.
Before and during World War II, Japanese mass media, including The Asahi Shimbun, acting in line with the militarist government’s policy, inflamed hostility toward the United States and Britain while trying to breed contempt for China and Korea among the public.
To avoid making the same mistake, the media needs to keep a distance from the government and promote calm-headed debate on diplomatic issues.
The media have every right to criticize any political or social move, either at home or abroad, that deserves to be criticized.
But all debate in a public space should be underpinned by a solid commitment to rejecting any form of discrimination and offering perspectives helpful for the development of healthy diplomatic ties.