South Korea and Trade – Isabella Kwon

South Korea and Trade

By: Isabelle Kwon

Last summer, when I went to Korea, I had a list of three things that I needed to experience before leaving: 1) check in with relatives, 2) eat a cheese hot dog, and  3) shop at UNIQLO. UNIQLO is a Japanese clothing line that is quite popular in Korea for selling relatively high quality clothing for a low price. I was excited to shop there because there are basically no branches in San Diego and because Korea is closer to Japan, the clothing is cheaper there; however, when I proposed this idea to my Grandmother while riding down an escalator, the woman in front of us turned around and said, “You can’t. We’re boycotting.” 

With the high tension and intensity brought by the Chinese-American trade war, many Americans are unbenounced to the idea of raging of another trade war between two other economic superpowers: Japan and Korea. 

Although this trade dispute seems as though it were a recent development, the root of the problem stems back to Japan’s occupation of Korea. In 1910, Korea was annexed by Japan for its labor and land. The Japanese forbade the use of Korean in Universities, and emphasized loyalty to the Japanese emperor. It also became a crime to teach unapproved historical texts which lead to the burning of over 200,000 historical documents, wiping away a lot of Korean history. Many Koreans lost their land to Japanese settlers who changed the landscape of the land by planting nonnative species. As World War II approached, many young women were shipped to military brothels to be used as comfort women. It wasn’t until 1945 that the Korean people were liberated with the defeat of the Japanese in WWII. Then, in 1965, the government made amends with Korea providing $800 million to Korea as compensation for their suffering; however, some Koreans did not see this to be enough. They wished to pursue individual cases for their forced labor and President Moon, Korea’s current President, supported them.

South Korea’s supreme court ruled that a number of Japanese companies must compensate a group of South Koreans (or their descendants) for their forced labor during this term of occupation; however, the Japanese argued that such claims were settled during the 1965 treaty between both sides. President Moon, however, claims to have no authority to overrule the Supreme Court’s final decision. Left frustrated, the Japanese placed tight restrictions on many high tech exports from Korea, an effort to place pressure on the Moon administration. They also downgraded Korea’s status as a trusted trade partner. Korea responded in kind with restrictions of their own. 

With both governments already so deep in this dispute, it is hard to say who will make the first step at reconciliation. Most Koreans support their government’s decisions with over half of their people standing behind the Administration’s decisions and have begun boycotts against certain Japanese products, causing sales of Japanese beers to fall tremendously. The Japanese people also stand behind their government’s course of action with 7 out of every 10 people agreeing with their government’s decision.