|Seen above is a United Nations Security Council report in 2016 that shows Japan's illegal export of radars to North Korea. The photo, released by the North's propaganda Rodong Sinmun on Feb. 7, 2015, shows a North Korean warship.|
By Lee Min-hyung
The Japanese government is threatening the cornerstone of security in Northeast Asia ― the United States-initiated trilateral system on which both South Korea and Japan rely ― as Tokyo is suspected of selling sensitive materials and dual-use technology.
Earlier, Tokyo said Seoul had "illegally exported some sensitive components to Pyongyang" without providing evidence.
South Korea proposed a plan to launch a United Nations-led body to probe Japan's assertion by saying Japan "should present clear clues and evidence" to back up its claim.
The unproven assertion by Japan is raising concerns that it is creating a security gap between South Korea and the United States at a time when Washington wants solid cooperation between its two key East Asian partners in response to the rise of China and North Korea's nuclear program.
Political analysts in Seoul said the growing "bilateral bickering" would not be good for Washington in terms of pushing its ambitious Indo-Pacific strategy as Japan's alleged sanctions violations cannot be allowed to undermine such cooperation at this critical time.
Specifically, reports from the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) have shown that Japanese radar antennas had been used for a North Korean warship. The U.N. agency claimed its member countries are prohibited from exporting the parts to Pyongyang under the sanctions on the North.
The items also included luxury goods. One of the UNSC reports said that 18 luxury sedans, manufactured by Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, were exported to the North over two years from 2008. Other goods exported from Japan to the North during the same period also included 10,000 cigarettes, 12 bottles of Japanese sake, cosmetic products and pianos.
On top of that, more than 7,000 computers were exported to the North from Japan between November 2008 and June 2009, according to U.N. reports.
|This photo, released by the North's Korea Central News Agency on May 2017, shows a construction crane that was possibly manufactured by a Japanese firm. The United Nations Security Council said in a report that Japan was suspected of illegally exporting the crane to the North. The crane was used in the assembly of the North's Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile. Yonhap|
As of Monday, the Japanese government has not made any official statements over the U.N. sanction violation allegations. Washington-led economic sanctions on Pyongyang have so far been playing a critical role in helping the North stay motivated in the nuclear disarmament talks since early last year when the nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang started.
The Japanese government's attitude is also a source of contention here, as Tokyo is keeping a low profile and has not apologized.
It remains unknown how Japan exported the items to the North. But it's been said the exported items could have been smuggled into the North via an unidentified route in China.
South Korea has officially denied accusations that it had shipped materials that could be used in weapons programs to North Korea, as a diplomatic row intensifies over wartime forced labor that threatens to disrupt the global supply of memory chips.
|Seen above is North Korea's unmanned aerial vehicle that was found on Baengyeong Island in the West Sea. The U.N. claimed that Japanese parts, such as a camera and engine, were used to manufacture the vehicle. Yonhap|
Even if the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo is on track to plunge to its lowest ebb, neither side has shown has any signs of finding a middle ground to end their aggravating ties.
Ever since Japan applied the discriminatory measure, which is seen by many as against fair trade rules, South Korea has called for the need to begin talks to resolve the dispute. But Japan has refused Seoul's proposal to hold the dialogue.
Last week, a South Korean security, industry and trade representative arrived in Tokyo for discussions on Japan's move to tighten control on high-tech exports, but no substantial progress has been reported.
The Tokyo-driven retaliation apparently started as part of its countermeasures against Seoul's Supreme Court ruling last year that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work in their factories during World War II.
Also, South Korea is seeking help from Washington. Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha discussed the issue with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone and conveyed Seoul's view that Japan's "undesirable" trade curbs could directly disrupt global supply chains and hurt trilateral cooperation among the countries.
Kim Hyun-chong, the country's most seasoned trade specialist, came back from his hurriedly arranged visit to Washington, D.C., Sunday, after winning Washington's support "unofficially" to stand behind South Korea's position over the trade friction between Seoul and Tokyo. But as of now, the U.S. is not showing any active gestures to mediate the dispute between the South and Japan.