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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 22)

All News 08:00 April 22, 2020

Face mask aid to Japan

The government plans to provide protective masks for the United States, Japan, and the countries that fought alongside South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun recently told relevant agencies to examine the idea, saying it "will help upgrade the nation's status," according to media reports. Provided some preconditions are met, the proposal is worthy of consideration in a positive manner.

Diplomatic calculation seems to be behind this decision. The reason to support the countries that took part in the inter-Korean conflict 70 years ago is relatively apparent ― an expression of gratitude. However, reasons for the U.S. and Japan require more strategic approaches. The shortage of masks in the two countries is due to a temporary imbalance between demand and supply, having nothing to do with their economic conditions. To maximize diplomatic effects, Korea should send sufficient amounts to the two countries at an appropriate time, whether paid or free.

It is not even certain whether or not Japan will accept support. Still, the Moon Jae-in administration appears to think the offer could serve as an occasion to unravel the strained relationship between Seoul and Tokyo since the Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese companies to compensate for Korean forced laborers during World War II. The court action prompted Japan to launch economic retaliation against Korea last year. The problem, however, is that a considerable number of Koreans oppose providing masks for Japan.

That explains why the government should be cautious about supplying masks there. The government should take into account not just Japan's response but domestic public sentiment as well. One thing to think about in this process is the local supply and demand situation of face masks. The government should not forget the bitter experience of causing a mask shortage after it provided a large number of protective masks for China in the early stage of the new coronavirus pandemic. As an old saying goes, "One has to be full before feeding others." The Moon administration first ought to secure sufficient production capacity. If the idle inventory surpasses essential levels, public opinion on helping Japan also could turn favorable.
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