South Korea yesterday warned Japan that it would be forced to review security cooperation between the two key US allies if Tokyo pushes ahead with plans to remove Seoul from its “white list” of trusted trade partners.
The squabble between the neighbors follows a decades-long quarrel over Japanese forced labor during World War II.
Japan last month unveiled tough restrictions on exports of chemicals vital to Seoul’s world-leading chip and smartphone industries.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Yonhap
Tokyo has also said that it would remove South Korea from its preferential trade status list as early as yesterday, a move that could affect hundreds of key items imported to the South and punch a hole in its economy.
South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha yesterday met Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono on the sidelines of an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Bangkok and urged Tokyo to walk back the move.
“I made clear the grave consequences it would have on our bilateral relations if the measure was imposed,” she told reporters.
Kang warned that the renewal of a military intelligence-sharing agreement between the countries could be jeopardized by any “white list” removal.
“I said that the security cooperation framework between South Korea and Japan may be affected,” she added.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday said that his side intended to press ahead with the move.
“This policy remains unchanged and we will calmly proceed with the formalities,” he told reporters.
Seoul and Tokyo are Washington’s key security allies in the region and critical in any future deal on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also in Bangkok attending the summit, has pledged to mediate between the two countries when he meets their diplomats today.
“We will encourage them to find a path forward,” he said ahead of his trip.
Pompeo is trialing Washington’s rebooted Asia security strategy in Bangkok.
He yesterday insisted that Washington was not asking Southeast Asian nations to “choose” between his country and rival power China.
The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a bitter trade war between the superpowers and open access to contested seas dominated talks between Pompeo and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi (王毅).
Both later played down the rifts between their nations, with Wang describing the meeting as a “deep communication” that “has helped to increase our mutual understanding.”
Pompeo said on Twitter that he had “an in-depth exchange of views” with Wang, including on North Korea, adding that “when it advances U.S. interests, we are ready to cooperate with China.”
Pompeo also insisted that the US was not prodding Southeast Asian nations to “choose between countries.”
“Our engagement in this region has not been and will not be a zero-sum exercise,” he said in short remarks at the opening of the ASEAN meeting. “Our interests simply naturally converge with yours to our mutual benefit.”
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