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A need for reason

July 18,2019
Today is the deadline for Korea to respond to Japan’s proposal for the establishment of a third-party arbitration committee to settle the deepening discord over the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on wartime forced labor. The Blue House on Tuesday refused to accept Tokyo’s request and its proposal to resolve the dispute by allowing both sides’ companies and the Korean government to get involved in compensating the five plaintiffs for their forced labor during World War II. The alarming developments suggest no possibility of the row being successfully addressed through dialogue and compromise.

Amid deepening hostilities, Korea’s ruling Democratic Party (DP) has begun to define Japan’s restrictions on three key materials used in Korea for production of semiconductors and displays as an “economic invasion” instead of “economic retaliation.” It is sad that the ruling party is taking such an emotional approach to the issue. That will only make matters worse.

Korea and Japan have long maintained a mutually beneficial economic relation despite the deep historical scars of the past. If the trade dispute escalates for political reasons alone, both countries and people will suffer. If Japan stops supplies of key parts and materials for Korea’s semiconductor industry, Korean companies will have no choice but to produce them on their own or find other suppliers around the world. That translates into losses for Japanese companies.

Samsung Electronics reportedly has already found Chinese suppliers of etching gas — an essential material needed to manufacture semiconductors. A nationwide campaign to boycott Japanese products is spreading fast. That will hurt Japanese companies doing business here. It is the time for both countries to take a deep breath and settle the trade dispute in an open and flexible way.

The Moon Jae-in administration needs to consider other options — including addressing the dispute through third-party arbitration or bringing it to the International Court of Justice. In diplomacy, there cannot be a one-sided victory. The answer lies in compromise through negotiations.

Japan must scrap its overly tough approach. Legally, the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings are convincing even among Japanese lawyers. Yet Tokyo tries to link the issue of compensation to the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations, which declared a complete settlement of all claims for damages during colonial days. As the New York Times pointed out, it is wrong for a country to impose economic retaliation on another for political reasons. Both governments must become rational before it is too late.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 18, Page 30