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Exchange programs between Japan, S. Korea promote understanding

The Yomiuri ShimbunExchange events planned by local governments in Japan and South Korea have been suspended or postponed one after another. It is hoped that the South Korean government and the local governments will act calmly in this situation.

Counting only cases in which exchange programs that were organized by local governments and private-sector organizations are confirmed to have been called off since July, the figure reaches as many as 50. They include programs under which primary, junior high and high school students are sent or welcomed, sports and cultural exchanges, and reciprocal visits by local government employees.

Most of the cancellations took place after the South Korean side conveyed its decision to that effect, and in a noticeable number of cases, the South Korean side did so after the Japanese government decided to strengthen export management regulations. When citing reasons for their decisions to cancel, many local governments in that country said, for example, that they would not be able to receive “understanding from citizens,” and that consideration had been given to “domestic public opinion.”

It is regrettable that the deteriorated relationship between the Japanese and South Korean governments is discouraging various bilateral exchange events.

The Fujinomiya city government in Shizuoka Prefecture received a written apology from its South Korean friendship city of Yeongju for its decision to suspend an exchange-promotion visit by a group of citizens. The document stated that the city government had no choice but to abide by a decision made by its country’s association of city mayors to halt official trips to Japan for the time being.

This seems to show the circumstances in South Korean society — once the government assumes a hard-line stance, it increases pressure to conform.

Behave as before

Another case in point is the decision by an institution for education in Jeollanamdo Province to give up the idea of accepting junior high school students from Kochi and Saga prefectures. The institution notified the Japanese side that it would be impossible to fully secure the safety of the Japanese students, and that if they see disagreeable aspects of South Korea, it will arouse concerns that future exchange programs may be adversely affected. The notice hinted at the unusual atmosphere that exists in South Korea.

The city government of Gwangmyeong, which is adjacent to Seoul, even went so far as to choose the host families for junior high and high school students scheduled to visit Japan, but it decided not to send the students. Exchanges among young people promote their cross-cultural understanding. Local governments in South Korea should be advised to look into the future before making decisions in this regard.

The Japan-South Korea relationship has deteriorated due to the series of insincere actions taken by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. However, various exchanges have been continued between regions and private-sector organizations in each nation. There may be a situation in which channels for a relationship of trust built through each exchange program will help relax the government-to-government antagonism.

The Japanese side is advised to calmly and naturally behave in the same manner as before. When its national team entered South Korea, the Japan High School Baseball Federation arranged for its players to wear polo shirts that did not bear the Hinomaru national flag. Although consideration aimed at preventing unexpected occurrences is understandable, was it necessary to go this far?

More than a few local governments in South Korea hope to see exchange programs resumed. A document received by the Hakodate city government in Hokkaido from the municipal government of Goyang, South Korea, said in Japanese, “We pray that the relationship between the two countries will be normalized as soon as possible, and bilateral exchanges resumed.”

There has been a decrease in the number of South Korean visitors to Japan, but at a time like this, they should be warmly welcomed. At airports in Hokkaido, South Korean visitors were greeted by prefectural government personnel and others. Such an attitude will make a favorable impression on other nations looking at the Japan-South Korea conflict.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2019)Speech



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