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Two leaders in the same boat (KOR)

Mar 11,2020
SEO SEUNG-WOOK
The author is a Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Why did Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announce the entry restrictions on Korea and China on March 5?

According to Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, he wished to include the entirety of China in the country’s entry ban list since the end of January, while also wanting to please his conservative supporters.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepared to announce — on March 5 at 4 p.m. — the postponement of his state visit originally scheduled for April, Abe gave an order to his aides. He chose March 5 to please the conservatives, while allowing China to save face.

A Japanese source said that Japan no longer needs to please China, as Xi already postponed his visit. And since Japan’s relations with Korea had already soured, officials agreed that no consideration was necessary for Korea.

In Japan, Abe’s move is generally associated with China. There is no sign that Abe gave much thought to Korea.

After Korea protested, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi claimed that the number of patients per 10,000 people is 1.12 in Korea, the highest in the world, followed by China’s 0.58. He argued that the measure would prevent the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Japan. Japan gave political consideration to China but presented statistics to Korea.

Korea reacted with a corresponding measure. The government said that Japan’s measure is unscientific, as travel restrictions are not a scientific response for disease control. More than 100 countries implemented an entry ban on Korea, yet Korea only responded to Japan with reciprocal countermeasures.

When asked why Korea did not respond to Australia and Singapore, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Korea-Japan relations cannot be equated to Korea-Australia relations. Although Japan justified its entry ban with the number of patients, Korea took the action because “Japan’s situation was opaque.”

Covid-19 has reawakened the Korea-Japan discord, which had briefly gone into hibernation. Restoring administrative dominance is at stake for Abe while victory in the general elections is at stake for President Moon Jae-in, leaving little room for either leader to concede.

The day after Korea announced its corresponding action, an editorial writer at an influential Japanese newspaper sent me a single sentence on text message. “It is the beginning of the end for Japan-Korea relations.” The two leaders seem to be in the same boat again.