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‘Soul-searching needed for Korea, Japan, over trade row’

A senior US official said Wednesday that South Korea and Japan should do some “soul-searching” about the political decisions that have damaged their ties, and called for calm words from its leaders.

Marc Knapper, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, told a US think tank that it was critical to ensure “productive and constructive relationships” between the US allies in the face of “shared challenges posed by North Korea, Russia and China.”


“We believe that some soul-searching is in order about political decisions that have damaged bilateral trust in recent months,” Knapper said in his opening remarks at a seminar on the Korea-Japan trade dispute hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Wednesday.

“By the same token, we believe that some prudence is required to prevent tensions from contaminating the economic and security aspects of Japan-South Korea ties. Calm, confident words from national leaders, we believe, will generate a similar response for their nations.”

Mentioning a recent joint patrol by Russian and Chinese aircraft as “a direct challenge to our three countries, and an attempt to take advantage of the current frictions in Japan-South Korea relations,” Knapper said “we must not let challengers in the region drive a further wedge between and among our three countries.”

The US believes that Korea and Japan “can find a space for creative solution” and “will continue engaging on this issue and stands ready to facilitate dialogue” between its two allies, Knapper said.

Emphasizing the US alliance with Korea and Japan as the key driver of peace, stability and prosperity in Northeast Asia for the past six decades, the US official added that the three countries “share bonds based on values” such as a shared commitment to human rights, freedom of religion, the rule of law, free and open markets, and high standards for the free flow of commerce and trade.

“We believe that Japan and Korea each suffer consequences when their bilateral ties worsen. And we believe that each bears responsibility for improving their relations,” Knapper said.

During the discussion that followed, Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korean studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, criticized the Moon Jae-in administration for “not taking the political leadership necessary to protect the relationship with Japan from domestic political spillover, which is arguably in Japan’s longer-term strategic interest.”

“The Moon administration has yet to realize an optimal balance between domestic and foreign affairs,” Snyder said, adding that he would like to see the South Korean government paying compensation domestically to the victims of wartime forced labor while trying to pursue a dialogue with Japan.

Yuki Tatsumi, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center who previously worked at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, repeated Tokyo’s position that its export restrictions were not a retaliatory move.

Japan decided to remove Korea from a “whitelist” of countries given preferential treatment in export procedures last week, a month after it imposed restrictions on Korea-bound exports of three key materials used to manufacture semiconductor and displays. Those moves by Tokyo are widely seen as retaliation for Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced to work for them during World War II.

Moon condemned Japan’s action as “very reckless,” and warned that Tokyo would be held accountable for future developments.

Seoul has also threatened to revoke a military information-sharing pact with Japan, which could undermine trilateral cooperation with the US on North Korea’s nuclear threats.

By Kim So-hyun (