The South Korean government continues to emphasize its hard-line policy toward Japan, fanning anti-Japanese sentiment at home through the media and the internet. South Koreans are exercising self-restraint in traveling to Japan, and the boycott of Japanese products is spreading in their country. This situation is regrettable.
The number of South Korean travelers to Japan in August almost halved on a year-on-year basis, marking a 48 percent reduction from the same month last year. The situation is starting to adversely affect regional economies in Japan, as seen in the city of Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, whose economy heavily relies on South Korean visitors.
There has been an upward trend in the number of visitors to and from Japan and South Korea in recent years. The figure hit the 10 million mark last year. Promoting active private-sector exchange is expected to ease the discord between the two nations’ governments. There are concerns that the mutual exchange may taper off.
The decline in South Korean visitors to Japan is because they are more and more inclined to restrain themselves from traveling to Japan, as anti-Japanese sentiment has risen in their society.
There is said to be an atmosphere in which South Koreans shy away from sharing the photos taken during their sightseeing tours in Japan through Instagram and other social networking services. There has been a noticeable number of comments posted to emphasize they have changed their destinations.
The boycott of Japanese products is also continuing. The import value of Japanese beer in August sharply dropped to as little as 3 percent of the figure a year earlier. Uniqlo casual clothing stores are struggling to cope with the situation, too.
In South Korea, there were similar boycotts in the past due to the history issue between the two countries, but these campaigns did not last long. The surge, as seen in the ongoing boycott, is unusual.
Moon bears responsibility
There seems to be a renewed atmosphere in which anti-Japanese feelings are regarded as proof of patriotism, arousing pressure to conform to this.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s responsibility is extremely grave in this respect. He has decried Japan’s tightened export management as an act of “economic retaliation” tied to the issue of requisitioned workers, insisting the Japanese government has not acknowledged the errors committed in the past and that it is distorting history.
He has also repeatedly asserted that Japan is trying to prevent South Korea’s economic growth, for example, as if to stir up antagonism between the two countries.
Angry sentiment has spread among South Koreans, who feel semiconductors — products manufactured by their nation’s leading industry — have been singled out as a target. The ongoing problem has drawn attention to an economic issue that can directly affect their lives, besides the history issue, and this has attracted interest from a broader range of people.
The South Korean government is also attempting to bring the seeds of trouble into the Tokyo Olympics. It has asked the International Olympic Committee to ban the use of the Rising Sun flag at venues to be used in the Games.
The flag was used by the Imperial Japanese Army, and it is now used as the Ground Self-Defense Force flag and the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s ensign for its vessels. The flag is deeply rooted in Japanese society as a fishermen’s banner hoisted to indicate a rich haul and for other purposes.
South Korea is insisting the flag in question is associated with “the suffering caused by Japan’s aggression.” This seems to show that the country is attempting to rehash the history issue.
The Moon administration should realize that such a stance will encourage Japanese and South Koreans to feel even more bitter toward each other, causing private-sector exchange to shrink.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 22, 2019)