Why Are Japan and South Korea in a Trade Fight?
Officially, Japan has “national security” concerns about technology exports to South Korea. Unofficially, World War II still casts an ugly shadow.
Two key U.S. allies in Northeast Asia are at loggerheads—not with China or North Korea but with each other. Since the beginning of July, when Japan restricted exports of critical materials used in South Korea’s high-tech industry, the two countries have waged an escalating war of words. If it continues, or gets worse, the trade spat could end up eroding the two countries’ bilateral economic relations—as well as disrupting the global smartphone industry right on the verge of the long-awaited rollout of fifth-generation mobile technology.
What is going on?
On July 1, Japan announced that it would restrict the export to South Korea of three chemicals that are used to make semiconductors and flat screens—key components of smartphones and other advanced technology. Compared with the huge trade war between the United States and China, only a handful of products are affected. But Japan’s move is targeted: South Korea is the biggest maker of chips, and Japan is the biggest supplier of the chemicals used in their manufacture.
[...] “The Japanese accusations are very serious, but they have not provided evidence of any collusion between South Korea and North Korea so far,” said Céline Pajon, a Japan expert at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI). “This is very worrying for the state of bilateral relations, in particular in the absence of any political willingness from the U.S. to mediate.”
[...] Japan is suffering “Korea fatigue,” IFRI’s Pajon said. “They consider that Seoul is not making enough efforts to shelve history disputes in order to move forward.” And coupled with that is Tokyo’s view that Seoul is “lost for the cause,” as it moves closer to China and puts less reliance on the U.S. alliance, she said.
[...] “Trump is not interested in alliance management, and if nobody in the U.S. administration is willing to stand up and try to bring the parties back to reason, it is likely the relationship will continue to suffer,” Pajon said.
The whole article is available on the website of Foreign Policy.