The rumbling tension between South Korea and Japan ever since the colonial period (when Korea was under Japanese rule from 1910 through 1945) has recently manifested itself. The tension escalated on July 4th of 2019 when Japan implemented heavy barriers and regulations on the export of three chemical materials – fluorinated polyamides, photoresists, and hydrogen fluoride - to South Korea (Chung, 2019). These three ingredients are vital components to chips that the semiconductor manufacturing industry in South Korea produces. This heavy control has indubitably hurt South Korean’s tech giants, like Samsung Co. and SK Hynix Inc, that play major roles in South Korea’s economy. Although Japan’s reasoning for this change in regulation was due to the South Korean government’s inadequate management on export control, some experts in Korea state that other reasons related to their historical dispute may have had a role in Japan’s implementation of trade restrictions (“Japan OKs 1st Export to Korea Under New Trade Curbs”, 2019). A few months prior to the restrictions, current South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, insisted that Japanese companies ought to compensate for the South Korean citizens who were forced into labor during the colonial period. It is clearly evident that this trade war isn’t solely associated with the bilateral economic ties between the two countries but also stems from the historical disputes that have continuously shaped their relationship.
Although the trade war is directly between South Korea and Japan, this issue is important on a global scale because the entire world is conflicted by such changes in trade exchange. Because South Korea creates around sixty percent of the world’s Dynamic Random-Access Memory (DRAM) chips, the delayed export from Japan to South Korea ultimately led to a delay in the overall global tech supply chain (Kim, 2019). These memory chips are essential components to many electric devices, including the Apple iPhones and Dell laptops, so this will slow down the entire assembly line. Further, because of the heavy regulations implemented by Japan, South Korean companies are looking for replacement supply sources such as China. This, in turn, could intensify the other ongoing trade war between China and the United States as China meets these opportunities of economic gain while the United States has to assist mediating the conflict between South Korea and Japan. This trade war is not a simple problem that conflicts two countries but provokes an economic strain on a global scale.
In the article “The World is Flat”, Thomas L. Friedman (2005) unravels the positive effects globalization has promoted all across the world. Friedman argues that globalization has benefitted everyone in the sense that the global competitive playing field has been leveled and continues to be leveled. He is referring to this idea when he claims that “the world is flat”. The technological advancements that allow for easy and cheap communication and travel have allowed individuals to easily collaborate and compete with other individuals from across the world. Many scholars such as Stuart Hall associate globalization with the idea of the “West and the Rest” – the key historical and social discourse that categorized the West as superior to the Rest (Hall, 1992). Hall claims that these discourses tend to establish a simple dichotomy that constructs an oversimplified conception of either category. Friedman, however, argues that the world is progressively becoming flattened and globalization is allowing individuals with diverse backgrounds to work internationally, blurring these harsh lines of division. It is not solely the countries categorized as “the West” who are participating in the playing field but everyone from all around the world. He claims that this globalization, the increasing interconnection of the world, is “connecting all the knowledge centers of the planet together into a single global network” (p. 8) which is rapidly pushing the world forward in a positive direction. Today, we see the most diverse interdependences across the globe ever in history, and according to Friedman, we must continue spreading globalization to bring prosperity and development to the entire world.
Friedman’s idea of increased collaboration among companies and individuals from around the world can be seen in the case with South Korea and Japan. These two countries participated in an effective global assembly line in the production of electronic devices such as the smartphone and computer desktops. Their trade and cooperation allowed for the production of one of the greatest devices that allow for accessible and affordable communication and an overall shrinking of the world. As a strong advocate of technological advancements and global communication, Friedman would argue that such instability in South Korea and Japan’s international ties will discourage other individuals and companies from engaging in global collaboration. Additionally, Friedman explains how it is not solely individuals categorized as part of “the West” that engage in global collaboration but “every color of the human rainbow takes part” (p. 11). When we imagine countries that are categorized as nations of “the West”, we do not immediately think of South Korea. Certainly, some may argue that South Korea could be categorized as part of “the West” due to its exponential development and modern advancements throughout the past decades; however, there are still many aspects of South Korea that clash with the ideals of “the West” such as South Korea’s emphasis on collectivism and filial piety. Despite not being a part of “the West”, South Korea and Japan are still experiencing Friedman’s idea of globalization, competing and collaborating from individuals all across the globe.