Asia

PM Shinzo Abe may have boosted popularity by barring entry into Japan: Korea Herald

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – South Korea took countermeasures to entry restrictions that Japan placed on travellers from here after a surge in novel coronavirus cases.

Japan, on Thursday (Mar 5) imposed a two-week quarantine on all visitors from Korea. It also revoked some visas and suspended the visa-waiver program.

The next day, Seoul announced it will end visa-free entry for Japanese citizens and suspended the validity of visas already issued.

Though the measures taken by Tokyo apply to travellers not only from Korea but also China till the end of this month, it is regrettable that Japan effectively barred entry without any prior notice to or consultation with Seoul.

South Korea and Japan are in close proximity, and human exchanges are heavy. They should have sought reasonable and efficient ways to contain the spread of the virus together, but there were no such efforts.

Japan’s response to the virus was problematic from the beginning. Like South Korea, Japan did not restrict entry from the whole of China, either, even as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Japan rose past 1,000, including cases on a cruise ship.

The Japanese people were disappointed at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak and are worried about the possible postponement of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games slated for July. Mr Abe may have needed to turn public opinion in his favour.

Japan’s announcement of its latest steps came shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan was postponed. This raises speculation that Japan held back from barring entry from China as a whole out of political considerations for Mr Xi’s visit.

Mr Abe may have sought to boost his popularity by stimulating anti-Korean sentiment as well as taking steps to stem the influx of infection sources. This may be the reason why it took measures without prior notice.

On the other hand, Japan’s abrupt measures raise concerns about South Korea’s diplomacy toward Japan.

Given a surge of confirmed infections in South Korea, a looming possibility of the delay of the Olympics and an increase in the number of countries that restrict entry from South Korea, it was not difficult to expect Japan to take similar restrictions on entry sooner or later.

The government under President Moon Jae-in needs to review whether it has alienated Japan diplomatically.

More than 100 countries restrict the entry of all travellers from South Korea. Out of its top 10 export markets, nine except the US limit entry from South Korea. They took such steps as Korea has the second-largest number of confirmed infections in the world.

Some provincial governments of China began to quarantine travellers from South Korea shortly after it raised the virus crisis alert to the highest level. The quarantine was forced without prior notice or consultation.

Beijing says it has little to do with the measures, saying that is implemented by provincial authorities, not by the central government. The Moon administration did not take reciprocal measures.

It did not take countermeasures, either, to other countries that limit the entry of visitors from Korea. It hit back only against Japan. South Korea would find it hard to refute criticisms that its countermeasures lack equity.

Probably more serious is the fact that the US, South Korea’s key ally and superpower, has been escalating its response to the spread of the coronavirus.

The US State Department raised the travel advisory for Daegu to Level 4 late last month, warning its citizens to “not travel” to the southeastern city of Korea.

If Washington bars entry to travellers from South Korea, other countries will likely follow suit. US-Korea trade will shrink, putting the domestic economy in a big crunch.

South Korea countered Japan’s effective entry ban with reciprocal measures, but an emotional battle or extreme confrontation will be only detrimental to both sides.

The fundamental solution is to contain the diffusion of Covid-19 outbreak as quickly as possible.

But while Japan began to restrict the entry of visitors from China, South Korea still kept its doors open to China except for Hubei.

Some say it is meaningless, and too late, as Japan did now because the number of confirmed infections has already topped 7,000.

Concerns about being isolated have not abated. Something went wrong from the start.

The Korea Herald is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media organisations.

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