|President Moon Jae-in speaks about his government's resolve to deal with the trade dispute with Japan during a meeting with senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday. Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
President Moon Jae-in said Monday that Japan was inflicting a serious challenge to his government by linking sanctions against North Korea with its recent export restrictions targeting South Korean companies.
The President warned that Japan would end up with more damage from its economic retaliation against a ruling by the Supreme Court here that ordered Japanese firms to compensate Koreans forced to work for them during Tokyo's colonial rule of the peninsula.
In yet another highly critical public message, Moon called on Japan to drop the false claims it is making against Korea to justify the export curbs and return to diplomatic negotiations.
"I must first point out that it is extremely unwise for Japan to make the unprecedented move of linking economic and historical issues," he said during a meeting with senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae.
The President underscored the false claims Japan has been making to justify the export restrictions. "At first, Tokyo cited the Supreme Court's ruling on forced laborers as grounds for imposing them but later, after it failed to gain any international support, changed its tune to claim that Korea was smuggling strategic materials to North Korea and violating sanctions against the regime," Moon said. "The allegations are a grave affront to our government which has strictly adhered to United Nations security resolutions and has done its utmost for inter-Korean relations and peace within the boundaries of the U.N. sanctions."
The remarks were in response to Tokyo's claims that Seoul had failed to control illegal exports to the North of strategic goods related to weapons of mass destruction. The presidential office called for an international investigation into the allegations last week. "As we suggested, both countries should submit to an international investigation to settle the suspicions and respect the outcome," Moon said.
The escalating trade restrictions are causing more concerns for Korea as Tokyo has reaffirmed that it will expand its trade restrictions by removing Korea from its white list of 27 countries that receive preferential customs treatment on imports from Japan. The move is expected to delay customs clearance procedures for at least 1,100 items.
The President defined the restrictions as a "huge impediment" to the nation's economic growth. "The measures hamper our growth at a time when our economy is pursuing a new leap forward," Moon said, adding that the measures will ultimately damage the Japanese economy as well.
The President has been stepping up criticism of Tokyo in his public comments following Japan's July 4 announcement of the imposition of tightened regulations on exports of three resource materials used by Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display panels. Monday's meeting was the third in less than two weeks in which Moon delivered a hardline message in response to the exports curbs, stressing that they were politically motivated.
During previous meetings last week, Moon strongly criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his economic retaliation against Korea for "political ends," and called on Tokyo to withdraw the export restrictions while stressing the need for discussions to resolve the intensifying trade feud.
Moon also said that a diplomatic approach was needed regarding the issue of compensation for forced labor during the Japanese occupation, a longstanding historical conflict.
"We presented an amicable suggestion to the Japanese government about implementing the Supreme Court's ruling on forced labor. But we did not say that ours was the only way. We wanted to discuss a rational way with Japan that could gain the understanding of the victims," Moon said.
The President's remarks come ahead of a July 18 deadline set by Japan for the creation of a three-nation mediation committee to look into the ruling by Korea's Supreme Court. Seoul had to date rejected this.
Amid the economic emergency, Moon called for cooperation from the business sector and political parties. Main opposition Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn has suggested a meeting between the President and all five parties to discuss countermeasures. A presidential aide said Monday that the meeting could take place soon, but further details would have to wait until the parties reach a consensus.