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Seoul expresses deep regret over exclusion from Japan’s whitelist

South Korea on Wednesday expressed deep regret over Japan’s removal of the country from its whitelist of trusted trading partners, with deputy national security adviser Kim Hyun-chong saying it was now up to Japan to decide whether the two countries terminate their bilateral intel-sharing deal.

At midnight Tuesday, Korea became the first country to be taken off the list, meaning Japanese exporters must now apply for clearance to export a wide range of goods to Korea. Japan now has 26 countries on its whitelist, including the US, Germany and the UK. 

South Korea's Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong holds a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong holds a press conference at Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

On Wednesday, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Se-young summoned Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, expressing strong regret over the Japanese government’s actions. According to a source, Cho also called in US Ambassador Harry Harris and asked the US to refrain from sending negative messages concerning Seoul’s decision not to renew a military intel-sharing pact with Japan and its impact on the US-South Korea alliance.

Referring to Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon’s earlier remarks suggesting Seoul might reconsider its decision to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement if Japan retracts its retaliatory trade measures, Kim said, “Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee mentioned that since there are still three months left until its termination, GSOMIA could be reconsidered if the two sides could reach a solution in the ensuing period and if Japan withdraws the unwarranted measures. Let me point out that the ball is now in Japan’s court,” Kim said.

In the midst of the changing trade and security environment stemming from the dispute with Japan, Kim also stressed that Korea would turn the crisis into an opportunity by increasing its independence in terms of both technology and defense capabilities.

“In the same way that our economy could be exposed to dangers at any time if we do not increase independence in core technologies, we could be exposed to security dangers at any time if we cannot defend ourselves.”

First Vice Foreign Minister Cho summoned Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine to urge Tokyo to reverse its decision to remove Seoul from the list.

Cho expressed strong regret over the Japanese government’s action, despite the Korean government’s repeated calls for withdrawal of the measure and for dialogue to resolve the issue diplomatically, the Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

“Vice Minister Cho pointed out that Japan’s measure is not part of a review of its export management and operation, but a clearly retaliatory trade measure for the (Korean Supreme Court’s) rulings on forced labor and a significant challenge that shakes the foundation of long-standing friendly and cooperative ties between South Korea and Japan,” it said.

In a meeting with the Japanese ambassador, Cho strongly urged Japan to consider dialogue and consultations between the two countries to seek a reasonable solution.

Seoul believes that Tokyo is slapping unjust trade curbs on it in response to last year’s Supreme Court rulings against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

On Wednesday, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga denied retaliating and asserted wartime compensation issues were already settled.

“Relations between Japan and South Korea continue to be in an extremely serious state because of South Korea’s repeated negative and irrational actions, including the most critical issue of laborers from the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

In early July, Japan tightened controls on shipments to Korea of three materials used in chips and displays, targeting tech companies here.

In response, Seoul has decided not to renew the GSOMIA.

On Wednesday, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho called in US Ambassador Harry Harris and asked the US to refrain from publicly sending negative messages that cause anxiety. He also told the envoy that South Korea has a strong will to take the two countries’ alliance to the next level, a source said.

The decision to terminate GSOMIA with Japan has raised concerns that it may weaken Seoul’s alliance with Washington and cooperation in fending off North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, with US officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing their disappointment over the move.

A senior US State Department official was reported to have said both Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had made “unhelpful” choices in the dispute, according to Reuters.

“I keep thinking we have reached rock bottom and then keep getting surprised,” the official said. “I’m hopeful both sides have made their point.”

By Park Han-na (