On occasional weekends this year, megaphone-wielding demonstrators have taken to the streets, telling the Koreans to “go home or die.” They’ve threatened to “flatten this neighborhood” and build a gas chamber in its place. The Koreans say that they — and the police — have little recourse against the threats, because Japan is one of the few democracies that don’t restrict hate speech.The movement in Japan is very small, but it is blown out of proportion by the Korean media. Looking for areas of conflict or disagreement, no matter how small, is part and parcel of negative social mood.
The protesters are a small but noisy lot, and their strident anti-Korean stance is viewed with contempt by most Japanese. But the demonstrations have caused damage nonetheless, not only disrupting a neighborhood, but also providing kindling for the South Korean media, which portray the behavior as a frightening norm, not an extreme.
In that way, the demonstrations have helped widen the divide between the United States’ two closest Asian allies, countries that have squabbled for decades but now increasingly see themselves as arch rivals. As if to highlight the point, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said recently that she would be open to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — but not with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, unless Japan changed its behavior.
The animosities between Korea and Japan are vexing for Washington, because the two share some security concerns, including over China’s recent announcement of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea.
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