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Fixing relations between Korea and Japan Fixing relations between Korea and Japan
by Joseph Gatt
2020-01-06 10:00:31
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Japan and South Korea have radically different public relations and public diplomacy approaches. Japan spends almost zero dollars on public relations, and uses a “if you want to come see us, come see us, but we won't invite you” kind of approach. South Korea on the other hand spends a lot of money on public relations, advertising quite a lot. South Korea's main mistake is that they advertise mostly in the US, when their fans are in the Middle East and ASEAN nations, and to a lesser extent, Latin America and among Black and Maghrebi immigrants in France. But South Korea keeps insisting they want people to have a “correct” vision of South Korea, id est, that imposed by official South Korean propaganda.

skorejap01_400Both Japan and South Korea have a “give me the money and leave your good manners and warm feelings aside” kind of approach to international trade and diplomacy. Both South Korea and Japan use public shaming and smearing as a propaganda and public relations approach. Both countries have tremendous potential when it comes to smearing foreign nations or boycotting foreign nations, as most local citizens blindly follow government and press instructions.

The war of emotions and war of words between Japan and South Korea started in the 1970s. Japanese tourists, who often behaved “strangely” in European nations, claimed to be “Korean” to avoid bad judgment on Japan by locals in the country they were visiting. Koreans did the same thing and said they were “Japanese” to prevent Korea from being judged by Europeans for what seems to Europeans as “strange” manners.

Japanese companies claimed to be Korean and Korean companies claimed to be Japanese, and only when the deal was going smoothly with North American or European nations would the Asian nations clarify and tell the truth about where they are from.

Other wars include propaganda wars. While the Nazi German flag is completely banned around the world, the Japanese rising sun flag was never banned. European and North American historians often omit Japan's Asian atrocities, focusing exclusively on the Pearl Harbor attacks, as if that were the only atrocity committed by Japan during World War II. Furthermore, the United States history books are full of repentance about having confined Japanese immigrants in the US in concentration camps during World War II. So the feeling a lot of Americans get from World War II is that the Americans were the ones who harmed the Japanese, and all the Japanese did was attack Pearl Harbor.

So Japan beat Korea at the collective memory game, almost erasing the brutal Japanese colonization of Korea out of international history textbooks. Korea on the other hand beat Japan at the trade wars, as Korea is allowed to violate patents and trade wars. Moisés Naim, in his book “the End of Power” claims that South Korea has blatantly and frequently violated trade laws and security laws, but does not get punished because of strategic interests with the US. Japan does not have that privilege.

In public and private forums, a lot of times, Japan has a tradition where they deliberately ignore their Korean counterparts. This causes irritation among Koreans, who are deliberately as loud and visible as they can in public and private forums. They seem to be addressing the public, when it's the Japanese that Korean delegates are really addressing. Public Korean PR campaigns often contain subliminal messages that only the Japanese could identify. And Japan responds with silence.

Korea has taken a provocative stance with Japan, repeatedly violating the 1965 treaty Korea has with Japan. Korea's aim is to rectify the historical injustice: Japan during World War II was not a one-hit-wonder that attacked Pearl Harbor, but a 45 year process of empire building that bore a very close resemblance and brutality to Nazi Germany. But so far Korea has failed at all its attempts in the PR campaign aimed at restoring the historical truth about Japanese imperialism.

I'll end with a very personal, friendly, brotherly message to Korea, then to Japan. South Koreans should know that we “Westerners” sent our very best historians, scientists and social scientists to collaborate with Korean scholars. Unfortunately, Korean academia is often very corrupt and token-based, meaning no real significant dialogue takes place between Western Scholars and Korean scholars. Korean scholars often refuse intellectual debate with Western scholars, and Western scholars are only employed as “English teachers” at Korean universities. Korean scholars who visit the US often refuse to engage in intellectual dialogue and debate with local scholars. So the omissions and historical distortions on Japanese imperialism are partly your fault.

Now to the Japanese I would say that passive-aggressive behavior with the Koreans, shaming and ignoring Koreans at international forums is never a good thing. It's about time that Japan normalized its relations with Korea and the rest of the world by adopting correct diplomatic etiquette. Correct diplomatic etiquette means a continual and sincere dialogue with the rest of the world, including sharing important information and contextualizing information for the rest of the world. Japanese isolationism and passive-aggressive behavior only leads to lost decades, and if Japan does not change its attitude, there will be many more “lost decades” to come.

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