After voicing my perspective on the current frayed relations between Japan and Korea, including my take on how some Korean politicians appear to be abusing our “comfort women,” I received quite a bit of feedback from readers.
So I thought it would be good to respond through this column where the discussion all began.
In my previous pieces, I already stated that I do not support Japan’s stance on comfort women, nor do I accept the 2015 deal for receiving monetary benefits in return for permanently dropping the issue on female sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
What I did say was that there exists people who seem to want to use the women who went through such a painful ordeal to stir up bad feelings between the two nations, and this is not in Korea’s best interests.
Although the deal itself may leave much to be desired, I also believe that nobody twisted the arm of former President Park Geun-hye’s administration to sign it, meaning it should be held responsible for putting its name on the dotted line.
Therefore, I stand by the belief that for Koreans to renegade on such issues whenever political winds call for them may be both rash and politically biased. It puts Korea’s global reputation in jeopardy and it also makes it difficult for Koreans and their businesses abroad.
Of course, I do not dare say I represent all Koreans or even the Koreans living in Japan. Everyone has a different stance on different issues. However, I believe promises are meant to be kept and that an international reputation is something that should be taken seriously. When reputations and bilateral ties break down, there are bound to be those who suffer the consequences. So before we start talking about principles and morals, why don’t we talk about those who are actually affected?
Recently, there was a sizeable demonstration by Japanese extreme conservatives in front of an Aeon store, one of the biggest supermarket chains in Japan that houses several Koreans brands.
The demonstrators were opposed to Aeon holding a special promotion just for Korean products, and the scene went on for hours. During that time, no one was able to get inside the supermarket and needless to say, the promotion campaign was ruined.
One Korean businessman told me that such rallies are really quite detrimental for business because Japanese people, who have endured all kinds of natural disasters and are trained to avoid or contain emergencies, go out of their way to avoid these kinds of confrontations. That means slow business, and when business is slow, the stores may decide to pull Korean products altogether, saying they aren’t worth all the hassle.
Investment made over months and even years could go down the drain in hours.
“It took me half a year just to get a buyer to meet me. Now the stores told me they won’t be carrying as many of my products due to the hostile bilateral climate,” said the businessman who sells confectionary in several Japanese prefectures.
Money is not everything and it certainly does not eclipse the value of people or principles. However, economic prosperity is quite vital to national existence. Korean firms in Japan do not necessarily always make money for Korea. But when they sell Korean goods and are a success, it inevitably contributes to promoting Korean brands and in turn the economy.
As some people may know, the Japan-based APA Hotel chain has been under fire for placing rightist books in rooms. These texts contain content downplaying Japan’s role in the Nanjing Massacre. Koreans from overseas continue to stay in the hotel, but many Chinese including the authorities have denounced the chain and refuse to use APA services.
I am not in a position to support this boycott, but it does makes me wonder. Which is a more effective and pragmatic approach in expressing national sentiment? Boycotting to hurt the corporate bottom line, or nagging to overturn a sealed contract in addition to engaging in endless arguments over issues that the two sides might never see eye to eye on?
By Kim Ji-hyun (email@example.com)
Kim Ji-hyun is The Korea Herald/Investor Tokyo correspondent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org