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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 7)

All News 09:19 March 07, 2020

Japan's new 'provocation'
Tokyo is obliged to explain measures against Seoul

A diplomatic row between Seoul and Tokyo is looming large -- yet again -- over the latter's "unilateral" two-week quarantine plan for all visitors from South Korea over concerns about the new coronavirus.

Given it is a de facto entry ban for South Koreans, it was quite natural for the government to decide Friday to take similar measures against visitors from Japan based on the principle of diplomatic reciprocity. As a result, Seoul-Tokyo relations, which had shown signs of revival since the two nations reached a fragile compromise in late 2019 on a years-long row mainly over historical issues, are likely to be chilled again. It is regrettable that bilateral ties are deteriorating again at a time when they need close collaboration -- now more than ever -- to fight against the rapid spread of the new virus.

The prime responsibility for what is happening between the two countries is with Japan. Tokyo announced Thursday that visitors from South Korea and China will have to stay at designated facilities for two weeks to be checked for infections and refrain from using public transportation. It also plans to suspend the 90-day visa-free entry program for South Koreans. The measures will take effect Monday and last until the end of this month.

Japan has already banned the entry of people who have visited the southeastern city of Daegu and surrounding areas, where over 90 percent of cases in South Korea have occurred -- most of them linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious group. It was a reasonable and understandably necessary measure for Japan in order to contain the spread of the virus.

But the latest anti-virus measures it took are hardly understandable, not only because their effectiveness in overcoming the virus is doubtful but because, according to Seoul officials, Tokyo didn't consult with the South Korean government in the course of drawing up those measures and announcing them. So it is natural for Seoul to regard them as a "provocation," and believe that they were created in consideration of politics rather than being based on science.

South Korea has limited travel restrictions to minimal levels for visitors not only from China but also from other countries in accordance with the guidance of the World Health Organization, while also strengthening health checks for inbound and outbound travelers, which means the latest Japanese measures are truly regretful. It is all the more so because imposing an entry ban on a certain country to stop the local spread of the virus has proven ineffective as has now been seen in Japan, the United States and other countries.

So it is natural to suspect that the Shinzo Abe administration is using South Korea to help circumvent domestic criticism for the government's poor handling of the ballooning virus outbreak in Japan. It is obliged to fully explain why and how it has drawn up such measures against South Korea if they are not political.

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