|Working level officials from Japan, left, and South Korea hold a meeting about Japan's recent restrictions on exports of high-tech material to South Korea in Tokyo, Japan, Friday. Reuters-Yonhap|
By Park Ji-won
Japan is facing increasing suspicions that it shipped prohibited items to North Korea, coming on the heels of it accusing South Korea of violating U.N. Security Council (UNSC) sanctions by trading with Pyongyang.
According to a press release published in August 2008 by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Tokyo only gave a warning in July that year to Japanese trading firm Nakano Corp. for illegally shipping equipment including vacuum pumps to North Korea through Taiwan in 2003. The equipment was later used in the North's nuclear weapons development program.
The ministry said the company had been aware of the possibility that its products could be used in nuclear programs based on past experience. It also added the firm was informed by the customs office that there were concerns its product would be shipped to Pyongyang.
Song Ki-ho, a member of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, made this information public Saturday.
Song said "Japan's trade restrictions on exports to South Korea should be lifted as they are a violation of regulations under the World Trade Organization (WTO), which stipulate that all regulations should be implemented based on constant, fair and logical rules."
Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party (BMP) made a similar argument last week that Japan sent sanctioned material to North Korea on 30 occasions over the last two decades ― via third-party countries ― some of which were used in the production of nuclear weapons.
The revelations came as a response to the recent move by Tokyo to remove Seoul from its white list of countries subject to eased customs shipping-clearance procedures when importing goods from Japan. Japanese media have claimed that South Korea allowed strategic items to be illegally sent to Pyongyang; and the government there may be using this as justification for its action.
Fuji TV and daily Japanese newspapers alleged Wednesday that South Korea illegally sent 156 strategic items to the North over the past four years, citing data on smuggling released by the government here.
Media reports stated Friday that Tokyo was removing Seoul from its list of countries exempt from regulatory procedures, enforced by multiple ministries, when their companies import high-tech material from Japanese firms.
This will impact several IT companies here, including Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, that import resource materials from Japan especially for semiconductors and flat-panel screens.
The moves by Tokyo are seen as political retaliation against Seoul over a recent Supreme Court ruling here that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to Koreans who were forced to work for them during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula; along with other long-standing historical issues.
"Delisting South Korea from the white list of countries is not related to trade issues, but security issues," Park Jung-jin, a professor at Tsuda University was quoted as saying to News1, Sunday. "It is Japan's warning that the country is fundamentally redefining South Korea-Japan relations."
He added that "It would be hard for the South take extraordinary measure in such a short period especially on historical issues. So, I think the current situation will continue for a long time."
Meanwhile, the United States is taking a wait-and-see stance over the trade dispute. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris was quoted as saying Friday that Washington has no intention of mediating or intervening in the dispute, according to Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, chairman of the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee who had a private meeting with the U.S. envoy.
According to diplomatic sources, the WTO has decided to discuss the trade restrictions during its general council meeting July 23 following a request by South Korea.