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Kono puts blame on Blue House for strained bilateral ties

Oct 11,2019
Taro Kono, Japan’s former foreign minister who now serves as defense minister, said in an interview published Thursday that South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her ministry shared the same thoughts as him on bilateral ties and the forced labor issue, but that the Blue House did not.

Kono, who served as Tokyo’s top envoy from August 2017 to September this year, was quoted as saying in the latest edition of the Bungei Shunju monthly magazine that Seoul’s Foreign Ministry agreed with Tokyo on the stance that the 1965 bilateral treaty should not be overturned and that a solution to the forced labor issue should be devised based on that treaty.

South Korea’s presidential office, however, didn’t feel the same way as its Foreign Ministry, he said.

“With Minister Kang, [I was so close to her] that I could just call her up on her cellphone,” Kono said. “I can’t specify our conversations, but after [the Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced laborers], I talked to Minister Kang several times and agreed we should think of a solution based on the 1965 treaty and the 1998 joint declaration” signed between former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Kono also blamed the Moon Blue House for the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact signed between Seoul and Tokyo, saying South Korea’s Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of National Defense both thought Seoul shouldn’t withdraw from Gsomia - unlike the Blue House, which ultimately chose to walk away.

Before the Blue House announced its decision, Kono said he talked about Gsomia with Kang during a trilateral foreign ministerial meeting in Beijing and got the impression South Korea’s diplomats and military officials believed Seoul should not withdraw.

“It was an urgent time with the North Korea issue and I think the South Korean government, especially the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, shared the thought that this [Gsomia] was a different issue [from the forced labor case],” said Kono. “But as Minister Kang returned home, the Moon Jae-in government announced it would terminate Gsomia […] Doesn’t that mean the Blue House thought differently?”

Kono urged Moon to summon the “political courage” to respect the 1965 treaty, saying not doing so would be akin to “rewriting history.”

In an apparent move to allay fears that Tokyo would be unable to effectively detect North Korean provocations without Gsomia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Japanese lawmakers Wednesday that Seoul’s decision to withdraw will not have any “direct impact” on Japan’s security measures, the Tokyo Shimbun reported Thursday.

On North Korea’s latest test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile last week, Abe was quoted as saying that Tokyo was collecting its own information on the launch and cooperating with the United States.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release that the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy raised the issue of Japan’s unfair export restrictions against South Korea on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly First Committee on Tuesday.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]