Asia - Pacific

‘Domestic politics behind Japan-South Korea spat’

Expert says forthcoming elections in two countries are affecting the trade relations

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 13.07.2019
‘Domestic politics behind Japan-South Korea spat’


The recent war of words between Japan and South Korea on the issues related to trade and compensating war victims, is rooted in the forthcoming elections in both countries, experts believe.  

Ankara-based researcher Hasim Turker, said that ruling parties in both countries were using tensions to lure voters.

While Japan will elect 124 of the 245 members of the House of Councilors (upper house) on July 21, South Korea's 300-member National Assembly will go to polls next year in April.

“The decision [to restrict export of vital equipment to South Korea] by ruling party in Japan comes at a time when [South] Korea is insisting on compensation to wartime victims,” Turker told Anadolu Agency.

Turker, who is Academic Coordinator and Senior Researcher at Bosphorus Center for Asian Studies (BAAM), said that insistence of Moon Jae-in government that Japan should pay compensation to Korean war victims is also based on similar political compulsions to address domestic electoral constituencies.  

Trade tensions

Last week, Japan slowed down export of three core materials used in semiconductors, smartphones and TVs to South Korea.

South Korea imports almost 90% of this equipment from Japan.

“There is a wave of protectionism across the world, see for instance U.S.-China trade war. So, Japan and South Korea are no exception to it,” Turker said.

The academic, however, warned that despite both these countries being allies of the U.S. in the region, the trade war will mutually destroy them. He expected Washington to broker a deal between the two.  

Wartime compensation row

The Japanese move is seen as a retaliation by Tokyo against a South Korean court order that last October directed Japanese firms, to pay compensation to wartime forced labor victims.

Japan has refused to abide by the court order, saying the issue of compensation was closed, when the two countries signed a pact in 1965.

Japan occupied Korean peninsula in 1910 and held it till 1945. Tokyo was accused of exploiting Korean women in military camps, besides forcing men to do hard labor.

The surviving victims and kin of those deceased had sued Japanese firms working in South Korea, demanding compensation. A Korean court ruled in their favor and asked Japan to pay compensation.

“There are bad memories and feelings among Koreans against Japan. That is why we often see tensions between the countries, which inversely help the ruling parties in elections,” Turker said. 

Significance of Japan’s election

Japan elections are significant as they would be first nationwide parliamentary elections, since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a third consecutive three-year term as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in September last year.

The LDP runs a coalition government under Abe with Komeito party. The coalition is eyeing at least 53 seats to secure a majority in the house.

Following trade restriction, Tokyo alleged that materials were being smuggled out to South Korea illegally.

“If South Korea is found to have done anything wrong, the government will immediately apologize and address the problem,” Kim You-geun, deputy chief of Cheong Wa Dae's national security office, said in a statement to Korean news Yonhap.

Last Tuesday, Seoul also complained to World Trade Organization (WTO) that Japan has restricted export of critical items, necessary for its booming smartphone and TV industry.

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