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A Brief Overview of the Japan-Korea Experts Dialogue

(SSDP-Yeosijae Global Future Dialogue, July 2020)

The SSDP-Yeosijae Experts Dialogue titled "Responses to COVID-19 and Agendas for the Post-COVID-19 Era" was held on July 29-30, 2020, in the three sessions below (For the Program, see Appendix).

Session 1: Response to COVID-19 and Lessons Learned (Health and Medicine)

Session 1 on health and medicine was held to promote mutual understanding of Japan and ROK's response to COVID-19, and to explore opportunities for bilateral cooperation.

The Korean presenters focused on the various aspects of ROK's response to COVID. Sang-Sun Yoon (Professor, Yonsei University) noted the proactive nature of the ROK government's COVID response in conjunction with KCDC (Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), reflecting lessons learned from its failures in the 2015 MERS epidemic. Yoon highlighted Korea's rigorous nation-wide contract-tracing program combining traditional "shoe-leather epidemiology" with new methods based on digital technology (GPS, apps, credit-card transactions, closed-circuit TV) as key to prevent the spread of COVID. Yoon also addressed the challenges to global health governance and institutions recognizing that complex global health challenges can no longer be borne by WHO (World Health Organization) alone. He called for additional global actors such as the GHSA (Global Health Security Agenda) and CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) to play a more active role and for Korea and Japan to cooperate in that arena, including vaccine development.

Won-Joung Choi (Director, Communication Dept., Yeosijae) focused on the role of risk-communication in crisis response. Effective risk communication with the public is critical in a health crisis. Choi noted that legal revisions before and during the COVID-19 crisis enabled the ROK government to access and provide necessary information regarding people's movement and location for contract-tracing. At the same time, she also mentioned the need to improve protection of privacy in order to maintain public trust vis-a-vis the government in democratic societies.

The Japanese presentations were given by two economists, Takashi Sekiyama (Associate Professor, Kyoto University) and Kazumasa Oguro (Professor, Hosei University) regarding Japan's response to COVID. Sekiyama conducted a comparative survey of COVID responses of 18 countries including Japan and ROK (from January to June 2020) and concluded that testing and contact-tracing rather than containment (restrictions of economic and social activity) is more effective in preventing the spread of infection. Japan succeeded in containing the first wave of COVID due to public cooperation with the government request for self-restraint of activities, but loosening restrictions without rigorous testing and contract-tracing will make it difficult to avoid the second wave of COVID infections.

Oguro focused on the controversial issue of PCR testing in Japan. The government and medical expert advisors are hesitant about strengthening testing, but from an economic perspective, expanding testing and contact-tracing, and filling the public information gap regarding COVID infections (who is infected or not) is important in safely resuming economic activities. Skepticism within Japanese society regarding "false positives" in PCR tests are also obstacles, but Oguro argues that the percentage of false positives would be low, and increased testing will improve the quality of public information regarding COVID infections.

Session 2: New Normal in Post-COVID 19 Society and Economy (Economy and Society)

Session 2 dealt with the "new normal" in economy and society in COVID and the post-COVID era. Out of necessity, such as remote-working, the COVID crisis brings new opportunities to push digital innovation forward. Presenters shared ideas and issues in Korea and Japan.

The Korean presenters, Byong-Jo Chun (Distinguished Fellow, Yeosijae) and Jae-Young Lee (Chairman, KGMLAB) discussed the positive as well as the negative aspects of a transition toward the "new normal" in Korea. Chun introduced the "Korean New Deal (K-New Deal)" plan proposed by the ROK government in July, a blueprint for South Korea's transition toward a post-COVID society. The plan consists of digital and green (environment) transformation, with feature projects (e.g. AI-government, smart medical infrastructure, green and "smart" (AI-digital) schools, factories, energy and transportation systems) as well as safety net plans such as occupational training, and human and capital investment to support the transition.

Lee defined the "new normal" as "untact" (vs. human contact) lifestyles through remote (work, schooling) and digitalization of society and foresees that these changes will accelerate in the near term. He also noted concern about "widening gaps" in society, including income disparity and digital divide. Korea and Japan should address these disparities and discuss and share domestic policies in coping with the "new normal" including for example, the pros-and-cons of introducing "basic income" policy.

Japanese presenters, Yukio Noguchi (Professor Emeritus, Hitotsubashi University) and Nobuyuki Hiraizumi (President, Kajima Institute for International Peace) discussed the prospects for Japan's transition toward the "new normal." Both stressed that the COVID crisis is "a once in a century" opportunity to resolve Japan's decades-old tasks and transition to a more productive economy and society. Japan's shift to the "new normal" hinges on whether Japan can overcome its low productivity and old practices. Noguchi warned that Japan's low productivity, such as those in labor practices and e-commerce are still obstacles in the shift toward the "new normal." At the same time, there are signs of structural industrial changes amid COVID, such as Kience (a "fabless" company) becoming the second biggest company following Toyota in terms of market value.

Hiraizumi noted that there are four "long overdue" problems that predate COVID: elevating profitability of Japanese companies, controlling social security costs, decreasing huge budget deficits, lowering risk against natural disasters. COVID measures should be utilized to address these four problems. He suggested that the popular policy by the Japanese government to deal with COVID, "avoid three 密 (Mi-tsu)" or "3 C's" --- 密閉 (closed), 密集 (congested), 密接(close) ---, should be converted into "3 S's" --- 開放 (spacious), 散在 (scattered), 疎遠 (sparse). The "3S" ethos, in the form of remote-work, for example, is likely to deliver positive results in changing old practices.

Session 3: Changing International Relations in the Post-COVID 19 Era (Foreign Policy and Security)

Session 3 dealt with the impact of COVID pandemic on foreign policy and security, international relations, with a particular focus on the US-China rivalry and regional and global affairs, as well as prospects for Japan-Korea cooperation.

Korean presenters, Yong-Wook Lee (Professor, Korea University) and Sehee Hwang (Director, Future Planning Department, Yeosijae) focused on traditional and new issues at the regional and global level for Korea-Japan cooperation. Lee emphasized the need and utility of strengthening East Asian financial cooperation based on CJK (China-Japan-South Korea) trilateral cooperation. He proposed that financial cooperation should be placed on the CJK summit agenda, and as a long-term goal, establish an "East Asian Financial Board" as a control tower to support financial safety net, capital market development, developmental finance, with the aim to promote autonomy and governance in regional finance.

Hwang stressed the need for Korea-Japan cooperation to deal with the void in global leadership amidst US-China rivalry. In relation to COVID, she proposed three areas for bilateral cooperation: knowledge sharing on COVID-19 (e.g., quarantines, vaccines and treatments, public health systems), COVID-19 response measures at the Tokyo Olympics (e.g., quarantine system, early detection of confirmed patients), and data hub cooperation (e.g., international norms for data distribution and digital trade, a Northeast Asia Data Exchange center) in light of the surge of demand for data capacity (expected to grow 36%, 2016-2021).

The Japanese presenters, Hideshi Tokuchi (Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies) and Tsuneo Watanabe (Senior Researcher, The Sasakawa Peace Foundation) provided views on Japan-Korea cooperation in the context of the Indo-Pacific and middle power cooperation, respectively. Tokuchi noted that the US-China competition will affect both traditional and non-traditional security, and stressed that Japan and Korea should cooperate based on support for the liberal international order based on international norms. He proposed four areas cooperation: (1) strengthen US-centered alliance network and U.S. military presence in the region; share information on defense cost-sharing issue; (2) promote international security cooperation in new security areas, such as military medicine, cyber security, (3) prepare for traditional threats, coping with COVID in military exercises, the austerity on defense budgets; and (4) mend Japan-ROK defense relations "quietly," by resuming defense ministerials and promoting cooperative measures.

Watanabe noted that the US-China rivalry has intensified due to COVID and that this trend will continue beyond the U.S. presidential elections in November, regardless of who comes into power. Japan and Korea will be in a more difficult position amidst the big power strategic rivalry and partial decoupling, and cannot afford to continue to ignore each other. He suggested that Japan and Korea should cooperate as "middle powers" with other like-minded partners such as Australia, India and some ASEAN countries, to uphold the liberal internationalist order, counter China's assertive behavior and guarantee stable US regional engagement.

Closing Session

In the closing session, Jae Ho Yeom (Board of Director, Yeosijae; former President of Korea University) and Masao Okonogi (Professor Emeritus, Keio University) both confirmed the importance of track two dialogue for Korea-Japan relations as we face a global health crisis (COVID-19) and intensified US-China strategic rivalry. At the same time, Okonogi voiced deep concern about the diplomatic deadlock over the Korean wartime laborers' issue. He stressed that Japan and Korea should overcome the political obstacles and share common strategies as "middle powers".

Masahiro Akiyama (Chairman, SSDP) and Jong In Lee (Vice President, Yeosijae) wrapped up the session reiterating the need to continue track two dialogue and person-to-person exchange (direct or online) for Japan-Korea relations. Akiyama noted the importance of sharing strategies in parallel with facing history issues, and the success of future dialogues would be measured in terms of how much we can share strategic direction. Lee concluded by noting the need to consider the future of South Korea's role as a middle power in the age of US-China rivalry and looking at Korea-Japan cooperation from a new perspective.


SSDP-Yeosijae Global Future Dialogue (Experts Dialogue)
"Responses to COVID-19 and Agendas for the Post-COVID Era"
July 29-30, 2020 Online (Zoom)
  • Session 1: Response to COVID-19 and Lessons Learned
    • Moderator: Jong-In LEE (Vice President (Acting President), Yeosijae)
    • Presenters:
      • Sang-Sun YOON (Professor, College of Medicine, Yonsei University)
        "Global Joint Responses to Infectious Diseases"
      • Won-Joung CHOI (Director, Communication Department, Yeosijae)
        "Pandemic Responses and Communication: Principles and a New Consensus"
      • Takashi SEKIYAMA (Associate Professor, GSAIS, Kyoto University)
        "Response to COVID-19: Implications from Overseas Cases"
      • Kazumasa OGURO (Professor, Faculty of Economics, Hosei University)
        "Expansion of PCR Testing for COVID-19 and the Problem of False Positives"
  • Session 2: New Normal in Post-COVID 19 Society and Economy
    • Moderator: Masahiro AKIYAMA (Chairman, SSDP)
    • Presenters:
      • Byong-Jo CHUN (Distinguished Fellow, Yeosijae; (former) President and CEO, KB Securities)
        "K-New Deal: Korea's Digital and Green New Deal Policy"
      • Jae-Young LEE (Chairman, KGMLAB; former parliamentarian)
        "Korea-Japan Cooperation in the UN-TACT Era"
      • Yukio NOGUCHI (Professor Emeritus, Hitotsubashi University)
        "Is Japan Able to Achieve the Shift to the New Normal?"
      • Nobuyuki HIRAIZUMI (President, Kajima Institute for International Peace)
        "New Normal in the Post-COVID 19 Society and Economy"
  • Session 3: Changing International Relations in the Post-COVID 19 Era
    • Moderator: Masahiro AKIYAMA (Chairman, SSDP)
    • Presenters:
      • Yong-Wook LEE (Professor, Dept. of Political Science and International Relations, Korea University)
        "The Imperative of Korea-Japan Financial Cooperation in the Era of U.S.-China Strategic Competition"
      • Sehee HWANG (Director, Future Planning Department, Yeosijae)
        "ROK-Japan Cooperation in the G-Zero Era"
      • Hideshi TOKUCHI (Senior Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies)
        "The Indo-Pacific Regional Order and Japan's Roles in the Post-COVID Era"
      • Tsuneo WATANABE (Senior Researcher, Sasakawa Peace Foundation)
        "Japan-ROK's Middle Power Strategic Thinking and Cooperation in the Age of the US-China Competition"
  • Discussants:
    • Junya NISHINO (Professor, Keio University)
    • Yasuyo SAKATA (Professor, Kanda University of International Studies)
  • Closing Session
    • Jae-Ho YEOM (Board of Director, Yeosijae; former President, Korea University)
    • Masao OKONOGI (Professor Emeritus, Keio University)
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