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Do we have a response? (KOR)

July 10,2019
YOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“If the Korea-U.S. fair trade agreement can be revised, we can break the comfort women agreement and redo it, can’t we?”

When a bold reporter asked that question, a foreign ministry official said, “It is possible. But we need to review whether we can deal with the backlash.”

Two years ago, the government was rushing a policy to scrap the Korea-Japan comfort women agreement made in the former conservative government. It is only natural that strategies are devised considering all circumstances. But when some raised the issue of diplomatic consequences, the Blue House responded that we did not need to listen to Japanese collaborators.

Last October, Korea had trouble importing hydrogen fluoride from Japan. As it turned out, it was a mistake on the part of the exporting company’s paperwork, not Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Delivery was delayed by only a day, but the industry was shaken.

In January, some members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party claimed that Korean industry would be hit hard if the export of hydrogen fluoride was blocked. When I asked the Korean government, I was told that the media shouldn’t create anxiety.

It seems that Japan’s economic retaliation was sudden, but actually it was not. Earlier this year, Japan’s Foreign Ministry; Ministry of Economy and Trade; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport; and Ministry of Justice jointly made a plan. They listed the responses that Korea could take and developed rhetoric. A report says Japan has more than 100 measures ready. They must have reviewed international laws and World Trade Organization agreements. As a result, Japan hit Korean industry by eliminating existing benefits.

While Japan is expressing discontent over the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on compensation by Japanese companies for wartime forced labor, it is more appropriate to interpret it as discontent over Korea’s response rather than the ruling itself. Respecting court decisions and a diplomatic agreement are not separate issues. It is regrettable that the Korea-Japan corporate funding plan that came shortly before the Osaka, Japan Group of 20 summit should have come a few months earlier.

Recently, the Japanese Foreign Ministry brought together its outstanding “Korean School” officials in its Korean department. From August, the Japanese Embassy in Seoul will have a new lineup of aces from the Korean School. While they have many Korean friends and like Korea, they are cold in their approach to diplomacy. I cannot help asking what we are preparing in response.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 9, Page 28