Why we don’t care about the Japan-South Korea trade war


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Maximus Kim, Contributing Writer

This is likely the first time you’ve ever heard about the trade war if you are neither Korean or Japanese. It has been extensively reported in east Asia, with videos and articles nearly discussing it 24/7. Two of our biggest, or rather, our only allies in East Asia, at possibly their lowest point in diplomatic relations since Japan’s oppressive rule over Korea back in the last century… and we’re just watching this disaster unfold. The United States, the country that should probably care the most about this, is simply watching from the sidelines.

Our president merely told the two countries to “get along,” (a feat that is nearly impossible thanks to a less than friendly history spanning centuries) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did little to fan the flames, and the Wikipedia article of this situation is dusty and subject to biased edits. But why? There are plenty of news and opinion pieces out there explaining why we should care, but we should first figure out why we don’t care. The answer might not seem to be so black and white, but I think I know why.

The United States as a whole does not seem to care because we don’t see how it directly affects us. But what about the U.S.-China trade war? Well, it’s all about who’s involved. The number one economy, against the second strongest in a financial dispute is very serious for the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the trade war between the 3rd (JPN) and 11th (KOR) strongest economies in the world doesn’t really involve the U.S. government, despite those two being our strongest (and quite possibly) only allies in East Asia.

So that leads to the big question everyone asks. Why should we care? Well, while larger companies in South Korea like Samsung have made deals with Japan to ensure that their trade of smartphone parts will go unaffected, smaller companies will likely, no, definitely not have that luxury. This will kill off competition in South Korea, which in turn reduces the amount of competition worldwide, including us. Letting Japan continue its aggressive tactics without intervention will also help in further normalizing the use of trade as a weapon, something that has already been done multiple times by this point.

So, can we change this? Well, not at the moment. We can try, but the movement will likely lose steam without anything to fuel the flames. Thankfully, you might not need to care, because on Sept. 20, Japan finally agreed to hold talks with South Korea under a WTO dispute settlement. If the talks fail, well, we can only hope we start caring.