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Seoul rejects Kono’s claims in foreign media

Sept 06,2019
For the second day in a row, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono tried to deny that Tokyo’s export restrictions on Seoul are related to the wartime forced labor issue while blaming Korea for the current strain in bilateral relations through English-language opinion pieces submitted to foreign media.

Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday rejected Tokyo’s claims and said it will take an “appropriate” response to Kono’s disparaging opinion pieces.

Just days after President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Thailand, the English-language Thai daily Bangkok Post carried in its Thursday edition an opinion piece by Kono entitled, “The real issue between Japan and Korea is trust.” The Bangkok Post notably last week carried a written interview by Moon ahead of his three-country tour of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this week.

Bloomberg on Wednesday also carried a similar opinion piece by Kono that appeared to be an attempt to sway international opinion and justify its export restrictions on Korea.

“We do not agree with nor accept Japan’s unilateral claims,” said Kim In-chul, spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, in a briefing in Seoul Thursday, addressing Kono’s opinion pieces.

Kono acknowledges in the opinion pieces that bilateral relations “are currently strained due to a dispute over former civilian workers from the Korean Peninsula during World War II,” referring to the issue of Japan’s wartime forced laborers.

But he argues that the “heart of the problem” is on keeping “promises” made between the two countries when they decided to normalize relations through a bilateral treaty in 1965.

He then purports that Japan’s recent export restrictions against Korea and the issue of wartime forced labor victims “are completely separate issues.”

Japan has insisted that all issues of compensation have been settled under its 1965 claims agreement, which included an economic cooperation fund of $500 million in grants and loans.

The Korean Supreme Court in October and November last year ordered two Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during World War II. The top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule over Korea and recognized that individual’s rights to compensation have not expired.

Kono claims that the Korean Supreme Court rulings “violated” the 1965 agreement and that the Korean government “failed to take any concrete measures to remedy the situation.”

Seoul has already said it stands by the 1965 bilateral treaty with Tokyo but that it has to respect the Supreme Court rulings as a democracy that upholds the separation of powers.

Japan has cited security concerns, along with a breach of “trust” to justify the implementation of export restrictions in July on three key materials needed to produce semiconductors and displays in Korea. In August, it removed Korea from its so-called white list of preferred trade partners.

Seoul in turn decided last month to terminate its bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement, or Gsomia, with Tokyo, an intelligence sharing pact signed in 2016.

Kono in the opinion piece insists Japan’s export measures are not “retaliation” to the forced labor issue, adding linking them “only obscures the root causes of two very different problems.”

He claims that the Korean government “linked” its export restrictions with the Gsomia issue, calling Seoul’s decision “a total misapprehension of the security situation in Northeast Asia.”

But in the same piece, Kono describes Japan’s export measures as being made “solely from the standpoint of national security,” citing ambiguous concerns the export measures were “required to ensure the non-proliferation of weapons-related materials.”

A senior Korean Foreign Ministry official, responding to the various points raised by Kono on Thursday said, “We are not violating the [1965] claims agreement, and at the same time, we are respecting the Supreme Court decisions.”

He added, “However, [Japan’s] export regulations are unfair measures that are not justified, hence we have been requesting its withdrawal. Likewise, our position on the Gsomia is that we have determined that our security cooperation with Japan is not enough to sustain” such a pact sharing sensitive military information.

President Moon said in an interview with the Bangkok Post published on Aug. 30, that it is “very worrisome that Japan recently carried out an unwarranted economic retaliation against Korea in relation to history issues.” He was responding to a question by the newspaper on Asean’s concerns over the Seoul-Tokyo trade spat. Moon expressed worries on the negative impact of the measures on not just Korea but the global economy.

Moon said that his government’s position is that “history issues should be dealt with separately from economic cooperation.”

He also said he is ready to “embrace and cooperate with Japan when it returns to the table for dialogue and cooperation.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]