|Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha answers questions from lawmakers during the National Assembly's plenary session in Seoul, Friday. Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
South Korea has never asked the United States to "mediate" in the diplomatic friction between Seoul and Tokyo, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Friday.
"We have not officially requested that the U.S. plays a mediating role in the dispute," she told lawmakers during a National Assembly session.
With the row escalating into a full-scale diplomatic tit-for-tat, the U.S. only expressed its willingness to play an "active role" in resolving the history and trade feuds between two of its Asian allies, according to Kang.
The best-case scenario for Seoul and Tokyo is to come to a settlement through dialogue. But it does not appear likely the two will manage to do so before the Nov. 22 deadline for Seoul to reverse its earlier decision to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan.
"Our decision on GSOMIA was made due to Japan's unfair trade restrictions on us," Kang said. "Our basic position remains unwavering, that the decision can be reconsidered under the precondition that Japan revokes its export regulations."
Tokyo started imposing "retaliatory measures" in trade and exports against Seoul in July, after Korea's Supreme Court ruling last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.
But Japan argued the issue was settled in the 1965 treaty between the two countries.
To resolve the dispute, Seoul proposed a joint fund between South Korean and Japanese companies for the compensation. But Japan rejected the proposal.
Earlier this week, National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang came up with an updated proposal, under which he offered to include donated money from the public of the two countries when establishing the fund.
Kang said the idea was not discussed with the government.
"His idea overlaps with the government's initial proposal," she said. "It is hard for me to say that he made the proposal under consultation with the government."
Kang also acknowledged that China and North Korea are the biggest beneficiaries of the termination of GSOMIA, as the military information-sharing pact is aimed at monitoring potential security threats from the North.
China also apparently welcomes the security friction between South Korea and Japan, because it is a negative sign for the Washington-led trilateral security alliance at a time when Beijing and Washington are vying for regional hegemony.
Kang said it is true that Washington was disappointed by Seoul's announcement to terminate GSOMIA, but both sides shared the view that the alliance between the South and the U.S. should be strengthened.
She also rejected a lawmaker's argument that the GSOMIA termination goes against national interest, saying sticking to a principled position is in part good for national interest when a country is hit by unfair retaliatory measures from another.
Kang said the Trilateral Information-Sharing Agreement (TISA) among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington will be a great alternative against the North's security threats, even if the South scraps the GSOMIA with Japan.
"We are going to take full advantage of TISA in the area of military information-sharing," she said.
Vice Defense Minister Park Jae-min, who also attended the session, stressed that South Korea can maintain its defense readiness through TISA.
"By using TISA, we can dispel concerns that the GSOMIA termination will put the nation's security at risk," Park said.
Wide gap in views on SMA
The foreign minister also reiterated that there remains a wide gap in views on the defense cost-sharing negotiation between Seoul and Washington.
The negotiation, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), is the talk of defense and diplomatic circles, as the U.S. has demanded a drastic increase in Seoul's contribution to next year's cost-sharing for the upkeep of the 28,500 U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) troops here.
Kang did not reveal how much the U.S. has demanded. She also declined to confirm a rumor that Washington urged Seoul to pay $4.7 billion (5.43 trillion won) for the 11th SMA.
"It is hard for me to share the specific number, but it is true that Washington demanded a substantial increase in the cost," she said.
In March, the Assembly ratified a one-year deal between the allies over their defense cost-sharing this year. Under the 10th SMA, Seoul will pay a total of 1.04 trillion won for USFK maintenance.
"Our position (for the 11th SMA) is to reach a deal which is fair and reasonable enough for the public to understand," Kang said.
The foreign ministry will continue to express the South's position and carefully consider any concerns of the Assembly during the talks, she said.