Korea-Japan Ties Get Even Worse

  • By Lee Ha-won, Roh Suk-jo

    June 30, 2020 12:40

    Cheong Wa Dae is bristling at what appears to be a concerted revenge campaign by Japan over historical issues that make the nationalist government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe look bad on the world stage.

    A high-ranking Cheong Wa Dae official said Monday, "Japan ranks at the top of the world when it comes to shamelessness."

    The immediate cause for the outburst was an anti-dumping probe Japan has launched into potassium carbonate imports from Korea, claiming damage to Japanese manufacturers of the compound used to manufacture liquid-crystal displays.

    Yet it was Japan that a year ago slapped export restrictions on certain high-tech materials used to make microchips to Korea, which in itself was transparent retaliation in a spat over compensation for Koreans forced into labor for the Japanese in colonial times.

    In mid-June, Japan opened an exhibition center in Tokyo that whitewashes forced labor from its industrial history, and behind the scenes Japanese diplomats are scheming to keep Korea away from an expanded G7 summit.

    Japan has also set its face against veteran trade negotiator Yoo Myung-hee's bid to become director-general of the World Trade Organization. The reason is that Tokyo does not want Korea's request to the WTO to set up a dispute-settlement panel over the export restrictions to succeed.

    Korea in return has threatened to ask UNESCO to scrap Japan's Meiji-era industrial sites from the World Heritage list over its failure to reveal their full checkered history.

    On Monday, President Moon Jae-in in a meeting with his senior secretaries said Japan's export curbs have "not led to a single case of production disruptions" in Korea but instead prompted the "localization of key materials, components and equipment."

    He added that the export restrictions "opened the path toward becoming a strong economy unshaken by others."

    That may partly be bluster, but Japanese exporters of the high-tech materials have admitted that the curbs have harmed their business, while Korean manufacturers have turned elsewhere for supplies.

    Cheong Wa Dae expressed particular anger at reports that Tokyo is trying to block Korea's participation in the upcoming G7 Summit even after U.S. President Donald Trump had invited it.

    The Cheong Wa Dae official slammed the "consistent attitude of Japan, which has grown used to harming other countries because it refuses to acknowledge its mistakes or reflect on them."

    Courts here have authorized the seizure of the Korean assets of Japanese firms that refuse to comply with orders to compensate their wartime slave laborers. If they do, relations could reach a new low.

    Abe has been holding regular meeting with key officials to discuss a response. One diplomatic source in Tokyo said, "Japan has repeatedly warned against the seizure of assets, so we could see a response that makes last year's export restrictions seem mild by comparison."

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