|Kim Hee-sang, left, director-general for bilateral economic affairs at the foreign ministry, talks with acting deputy assistant secretary of state for South Korea and Japan Marc Knapper during his visit to Washington D.C, early Friday (KST). Yonhap|
Cheong Wa Dae asks joint investigation for Japan's claims
By Lee Min-hyung, Kim Yoo-chul
The United States will back South Korea's responses in resolving an ongoing trade row with Japan over the latter's restrictions on the export of some high-tech resource materials, a senior presidential aide said, early Friday (KST).
"I can tell you that Washington has fully acknowledged Seoul's view that Tokyo's discriminatory trade export controls is directly disrupting global supply chains and hurting trilateral cooperation among the countries in tackling key outstanding and pending issues. Leading lawmakers on Capitol Hill told me that they will directly discuss this with White House and other senior officials in the Trump administration to resolve the deepening Seoul-Tokyo trade spat," deputy National Security Office (NSO) chief Kim Hyun-chong told reporters.
The presidential aide, the country's most seasoned and experienced trade specialist, was in Washington D.C. to convey the government's position over Japan's action, and seek active U.S. mediation in the trade row.
The aide held a series of meetings with White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, lawmakers and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
A separate meeting with White House Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman, Kim's official U.S. counterpart, has been set for early Saturday (KST), according to Cheong Wa Dae.
After his meeting with Mulvaney, Kim said, "Because both South Korea and Japan have close relationships with the United States, if the trade row continues, then this will also not be good from Washington's perspective. This was my key point that I passed on during my meeting with the White House chief of staff. Regarding my comments, Mulvane responded that Washington preferred to resolve the trade row in a constructive way."
The U.S. State Department refused to comment on the trade dispute, merely saying it considered U.S. relations with South Korea and Japan to be "incredibly important."
"We're going to do everything we can to pursue ways to strengthen our relationship among all three countries, both publicly and behind the scenes," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters in a briefing, early Friday. She added the three countries all face shared regional challenges and priorities in the Indo-Pacific.
Kim told reporters that Seoul was waiting for a call from Tokyo for trilateral discussions over the trade dispute.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific David Stilwell plans to visit Japan and South Korea, next week. After first visiting Tokyo, Stilwell will then hold meetings with presidential aides here to discuss his talks with ranking Japanese officials.
A brief tea meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha is also planned, a presidential aide told The Korea Times. He declined to comment as to whether Stilwell would meet with NSO chief Chung Eui-yong.
"Stilwell may tell officials here that Washington hopes to address the trade dispute through both dialogue and diplomatic channels," the aide said, adding the U.S. official would also probably deliver a proposal from Japan on solving the dispute.
Following the imposition of the export regulations, Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong flew to Japan to assess and resolve potential supply bottlenecks for the group. In addition to urging its Japanese partners to ask Tokyo not to escalate the de-facto export ban, Samsung is likely to be looking for ways to circumvent it by asking Japanese suppliers to ship parts from their overseas plants.
On Friday, Cheong Wa Dae suggested launching a United Nations-led joint investigation into Japan's allegations that South Korea was exporting "strategic components" to North Korea.
"Without providing clear evidence, a high-ranking Japanese official said South Korea sent strategic components to North Korea, which is a violation of U.N. sanctions. We seriously regret the claims. We suggested the idea of launching a joint investigation of the claims through international organizations such as the United Nations Security Committee," NSO first deputy director Kim Yoo-geun told reporters in a briefing at the presidential office. "If South Korea was accountable and responsible, then the government will take responsibility; however, if not, then the Japanese government should withdraw its export curbs decision immediately with a public apology," he said.
Deputy NSO head Kim said his meeting with Kupperman will cover Washington and Seoul's positions on the North Korea nuclear issue before setting up a specific agenda on "reaching an end-state."
The United States is hoping to see a freeze in the North's nuclear program as a "start of the process of denuclearization," the U.S. State Department said ahead of working-level discussions between Washington and Pyongyang, which will take place later this month.
The State Department said a freeze would "never be the resolution of a process and never be the end of a process but would be at the beginning of the process." Kim declined to comment on reports that the U.S. would offer some sanctions relief if the North completely dismantled its major Yongbyon nuclear complex.
"South Korea and the United States are waiting to hear from North Korea regarding the start of working-level discussions between U.S. and North Korean representatives on the regime's nuclear weapons program," Kim told reporters.
The DMZ encounter between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un raised hopes that the stalled denuclearization talks would be restarted. Seoul hopes Washington will take an "incremental approach" by offering "rewards" such as sanctions easing based on the level of progress in nuclear disarmament.