Over the past year, the Japanese and South Korean trade feud has escalated and both countries have been faced with severe consequences. In late 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that victims of forced labor during Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula had the right to request individual compensation from Japanese firms. However, Japan has firmly declared that compensation issues have been settled under the diplomatically established 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Seoul and Tokyo. But when South Korea took an uncompromising stance, Japan tightened controls over exports to Korea, fueling a South Korean boycott of Japanese products. Considering that many South Koreans have generally expressed disapproval or exhaustion at the persistent insincerity of Japan’s official apologies, Tiger Times ventured to survey Seoul International School students’ opinions on the intensifying Japan-Korea conflict.
“I think Japan’s reasons for removing South Korea off its trade whitelist are disingenuous and insincere,” said Edward Lee (11), AP World History student. “Japan claimed that Korea was not properly regulating the Japanese chemicals that it has been importing. Not only is this statement unsubstantiated, but, in actuality, it’s a retaliation for the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling. This response has only exacerbated the feud between the two countries.”
Consequences of this trade conflict have been damaging the South Korean economy. South Korea can no longer import chemicals necessary to produce semiconductor memory chips found in most electronic devices. As semiconductors are South Korea’s primary export item, this trade conflict has undermined its economy tremendously. Although the Japanese government denies that the ruling had any effect on its decision, many South Koreans believe that the Supreme Court’s ruling was based on legitimate grounds.
“I think it’s proper for South Korean government and citizens to ask for compensation,” said Eunice Lee (11), former US History student. “The Korean government standing up for victims such as the comfort women is important and necessary. It’s inevitable that the trade feud between the two countries has intensified, as I’m sure the South Korean government would have foreseen such a response from the Japanese government. But I think this trade feud is an issue we need to overcome, as we cannot always rely on a separate country to provide us the necessary resources and materials. Cutting off trade relations with Japan has made our country more self-sufficient and smart on imports.”
SIS students themselves have felt the effects of the conflict in their daily lives. “When I went to UNIQLO in Lotte Mall, it was empty,” said Kevin Lee (12). With the enduring boycott on Japanese products and the exacerbation of political and economic relations between the two countries, some students have voiced the need for negotiation.
“I wish the US would take action in terms of negotiating a trade agreement between Korea and Japan,” said Suzie Choi (12), Government and Politics student. “At this point, it looks like there’s little likelihood that the dispute will be resolved. That’s why it’s all the more important for a neutral-standing third party to mediate. If this feud continues, it will continue to harm the East Asian region because we’re tying economic issues to politics. Countries will be particularly cautious when establishing trade relations to a nation in this region, creating an invisible tension.”
While it is unclear whether US will take part in this conflict as a mediator, it appears that in the foreseeable future, the economic relations between Japan and South Korea will remain difficult.