S. Korea’s stance of avoiding reality undermines preferential trade status

The Yomiuri ShimbunSouth Korea’s emotional behavior is beyond endurance. Japan should respond calmly based on facts.

The Japanese government has approved at a Cabinet meeting an ordinance revision to remove South Korea from a list of countries eligible for preferential treatment to simplify export procedures. The revision will take effect on Aug. 28.

At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “This review is in line with circumstances such as South Korea’s insufficient export control system and its operation.” There has been a lack of sufficient communication between the authorities of the two countries, and their relationship of trust is also breaking down. There can be no choice but to halt special treatment of South Korea.

Japan will tighten export procedures on carbon fiber, machine tools and other items that could be used for military purposes, and check closely the export destinations and use of such items. South Korea’s trade status will be changed to the same as for other Asian countries.

Japan has already tightened export procedures for three items, including the hydrogen fluoride needed to produce semiconductors. This is because cases of inappropriate exports were found. The exclusion of South Korea from the list of preferred trade countries is a subsequent measure.

The South Korean side has given explanations that are contrary to the facts, such as saying that it asked Japan to withdraw the decision at a working-level meeting in July. This point also cannot be overlooked.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said: “We are now in a situation where we can’t talk with trust. I hope that South Korea will respond in good faith, starting with correcting such an announcement.” This call is reasonable.

Calm discussions needed

The removal of a country from the preferred trade partner list is different from an export restriction. Exporting companies will see their administrative burdens increase, but they will be allowed to export products if they pass screenings. Such a measure for national security reasons is also permitted under the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which promotes free trade in principle.

The Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers held talks in Bangkok, but failed to reach an agreement on the issue. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seeking ways to mediate between the two countries amid concerns over their trade spat.

One problem is the attitude of the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which is not facing up to the reality. South Korea has announced countermeasures to strengthen control over its exports to Japan. At a Cabinet meeting, Moon said, “The responsibility lies entirely with Japan.”

Simply blaming Japan will not improve the situation. If South Korea wants to be listed again as a preferred trade partner, it should first make its export controls appropriate.

South Korea has even hinted at the possibility of rescinding the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), under which Tokyo and Seoul share information on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but this is beside the point.

Seoul is also considering filing a complaint with the WTO. It is highly likely that the country will further unfold a propaganda campaign in the international community. Japan needs to stake a claim on its legitimacy in a careful manner.

Needless to say, in case an environment is created for the countries to discuss the issue calmly, Japan, for its part, must respond sincerely.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 3, 2019)Speech


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