S.Korea expresses strong regret over Japan’s enforcement of whitelist removal

South Korea’s presidential Blue House on Wednesday expressed strong regret over Japan’s enforcement to remove South Korea from its whitelist of trusted trading partners amid the escalating trade spat and the controversy over historical issues between the two countries.

Kim Hyun-chong, deputy director of the National Security Office (NSO) of the Blue House, told a press briefing that South Korea “strongly regrets” the latest action taken by Japan to enforce the removal of Seoul from its whitelist.

“The (South Korean) government has continuously demanded the retraction of economic retaliation that Japan had undertaken with regard to the ruling of the (South) Korean Supreme Court,” Kim said.

The comment came after Japan’s move to drop South Korea off its whitelist of nations, entitled to simplified export control procedures, came into effect at midnight as planned. Earlier this month, Seoul also took Tokyo off its whitelist of trusted export partners.

The trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo was sparked by Japan’s tighter control in early July on its export to South Korea of three materials vital to produce memory chips and display panels, which are the mainstay of the South Korean export.

Japan’s export curbs came in an apparent protest against the South Korean top court’s ruling that ordered some Japanese firms, including Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries among others, to compensate the wartime forced labor victims.

Hundreds of thousands of South Koreans were forced by Imperial Japan into hard labor without pay during World War II. The Korean Peninsula was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945.

Japan claimed that all colonial-era issues, including the forced labor, were settled via the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries, but South Korea said the accord did not involve individuals’ right to reparation.

Amid the resurfacing controversy over historical issues and the mounting trade spat, South Korea decided last week to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that was signed in November 2016.

“We want to once again point out that it was Japan who actually linked security issues to export restriction measures in the first place,” the Blue House official said.

“Japan initially claimed that trust had been breached between the two nations with regard to the forced labor issue as it took export restriction measures. But, Japan went on to change its tune to claim that the problems in (South) Korea’s export control regime had a negative impact on Japan’s security,” Kim said.

Kim refuted Japan’s claims citing the Institute of Science and International Security, which ranked South Korea at 17th place and Japan at 36th each when grading the two countries’ export control regimes for strategic materials.

“Let me emphasize once again that the purpose of GSOMIA between (South) Korea and Japan is to facilitate the exchange of sensitive military information between the two countries based on a very high level of mutual trust,” Kim said.

“Now that basic trust has been undermined between the two countries as Japan is claiming. There is no justification for maintaining GSOMIA,” he said.

Regarding the 1965 treaty, Kim reiterated South Korea’s position that the “crimes against humanity” in which Japan’s government and military had participated during the colonial era “cannot be deemed as resolved” by the 1965 pact and that the individual rights of the forced labor victims to claim reparations “are very much alive”.

“The ball is now in Japan’s court,” said Kim citing South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon’s comment on Thursday that if Japan withdraws its unwarranted measures and the two countries could reach a solution, the GSOMIA could be reconsidered.