South Korean President Wen Zaiyin released tough messages to Japan three times on the 15th, accusing Japan of imposing trade restrictions on semiconductor, the core industry of South Korea, which is tantamount to blocking the pace of South Korean economic development.
According to the Yonhap News Agency on the 15th, Wen said that Japan questioned the inflow of goods exported to Korea into the DPRK as a rash challenge to the DPRK. The Korean government has always promoted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace on the Peninsula within the framework of UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK. If Japan is unwilling to withdraw these doubts, the two countries can entrust international organizations to investigate whether there are violations of the four multilateral export control mechanisms in accordance with the proposal of the ROK.
On July 12, Japan and South Korea held talks on export restrictions in Tokyo, but not only failed to achieve results, but both sides also held different opinions on whether the ROK would ask Japan to cancel export restrictions at the meeting.
Who violated the sanctions against DPRK? Japan and South Korea blame each other
It is no coincidence that South Korean President Wen Zaiyin mentioned North Korea directly on the 15th.
Initially, when the Japanese government announced on July 1 that it would restrict the export of three kinds of semiconductor materials to Korea, it did not explain the reasons, but only mentioned that the trust relationship between Japan and Korea has been seriously damaged, but many Korean media agreed that this was in retaliation for Koreas constant demand for compensation from Korean workers in World War II.
But a few days later, as Japan hinted that South Koreas export management was poor, hydrogen fluoride flowed into the DPRK, violating sanctions against the DPRK, and the center of the dispute between the two sides shifted.
According to Yonhap News Agency, Acting Director-General of Japans Liberal Democratic Party, Takeshida, said on July 5 that Japans exports of hydrogen fluoride to South Korea did not know where to go, and that hydrogen fluoride, which can be used to produce toxic gases and chemical weapons, could flow into North Korea. Japans Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said on the 7th that he doubted that South Korea had not effectively implemented sanctions against the DPRK on the grounds of restricting exports to the DPRK.
These remarks have aroused strong criticism from the South Korean side. On the 9th, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Lok-won said that the Korean government had protested and questioned the basis of Abes statement, but the Japanese side had not yet answered. He said the remarks were dangerous statements that could shake our security order to this day.
South Koreas Minister of Industry, Commerce and Resources, Cheng Yunmou, also said on the same day that Japans statement was groundless and did not find any evidence of hydrogen fluoride flowing through South Korea into the target countries of UN sanctions such as North Korea. He hoped that Japan would immediately stop this claim.
The Yonhap news agency reported that the Korean government had conducted an urgent full investigation of domestic hydrogen fluoride importers to confirm that the material had not been transported into North Korea.
On the 12th, the presidential palace of South Korea, Tsingwatai, said that the UN Security Council should entrust a panel of experts of the North Korean Sanctions Committee or appropriate international bodies to investigate whether South Korea and Japan have violated the sanctions. If South Korea does not, Japan should apologize and withdraw its export restrictions.
Not only that, South Korea has countered this. According to Yonhap News Agencys report of 10 reports submitted by the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee Expert Group from 2010 to this year, the group has repeatedly pointed out that products banned from exporting to North Korea flow into North Korea from Japan, but it is difficult to find cases of violations of Security Council resolutions by South Korea. Special pictures of related weapons are also included in the article.
It is noteworthy that the official media of North Korea also sent out articles to criticize Japan for the first time.
On the 10th, the official media of North Korea, such as Labor News, published a strongly worded condemnation article, criticizing Japan for not only not reflecting on past evils, but also becoming more and more arrogant and rampant. Labor News said that Japans export restrictions were aimed at increasing pressure on the Korean economy and evading liability for compensation, but also the sinister intentions of Abes political party, wholeheartedly hoping to achieve militarist goals. The article said that Japan refused to apologize and compensate for past crimes, trampling on the interests of our Korean nation, we must not sit idly by Japans brazen impulse.
Singapores Lianhe Zaobao newspaper said that North Korea had condemned Japans trade retaliation measures through foreign propaganda media, but it was the first time that the official media formally strongly condemned Japan.
South Koreas well-known think tank: the barometer of security cooperation hangs
The confrontation between the two sides goes beyond sanctions against North Korea.
South Koreas Central Daily published a signed commentary by Shen Fanchen, director of the Center for Security and Unification of the Eshan Policy Research Institute, a think tank, on the 15th, saying there are voices that the economic and trade disputes between Japan and South Korea will spread in the area of military security, possibly affecting the Agreement on the Protection of Military Intelligence (GSOMIA) between the two countries.
According to the commentary, the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement is a barometer to measure the security conflicts between Korea and Japan.
Comments said that some people in the Korean government worried that Japan might use the cessation of the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement as a bargaining chip to publicize to the international community that South Korea is a country that cannot share sensitive information and needs security considerations.
In November 2016, South Korea and Japan signed the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement, which allows the two countries to share military intelligence directly without transferring through the United States. The agreement is valid for one year and will be automatically extended within 90 days of its expiration if neither of the two countries notifies the other. The agreement was extended once in 2017 and again in 2018.
But South Koreas Central Daily commentary further said that Japan was more active than South Korea in signing the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement. South Korea was hesitant. The conclusion of the diplomatic community is that the United States has urged both sides to sign the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement since then, which seems to imply a sharp turn in bilateral relations at present. This will directly lead to the interruption of GSOMIA.
So far, the two governments have not commented on the impact. But in recent years, the Eshan Policy Research Institute, which has dramatically increased its influence in the global policy circle, has chosen to make this comment before and after the third public release of tough information to Japan by South Korean President Wen Yat-yin. Its importance cannot be underestimated.
Established in 2008, the Eshan Policy Research Institute aims to promote peace and reunification on the peninsula and peace and stability in Northeast Asia. The founder is Zheng Mengjun, president of Hyundai Heavy Industries Group, one of Koreas largest chaebols. Although the Institute has not been established for a long time, the mobility between its researchers and the political, business and academic circles is very frequent. There are always researchers entering the political or business circles, or teaching in universities. At the same time, there are also people from the political, business or university entering the Eshan Policy Research Institute. The academy is regarded as the spear of the most important ideas in Korea.
The United States believes that the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement is the basis of the tripartite security cooperation between Korea, the United States and Japan. It may regard countries that refuse to extend the Military Intelligence Protection Agreement as countries that undermine the overall security cooperation of the three countries. South Koreas Central Daily on the 15th signed commentary article tries to pull the United States into the current dispute between Korea and Japan to consider.
South Korea is eager to seek support. The United States does not intervene but listens in depth.
Japan and South Korea are important allies of the United States in East Asia. This dispute originated from the industrial economy, but at the beginning it was necessary to speculate about the position of the United States.
According to Reference News, Sheila Smith, a senior researcher at the Association for Foreign Relations, an American think tank, told Kyodo News Agency in an interview on July 7 that the recent deterioration of relations between Japan and South Korea is totally different from the past and is close to irreparable.
She further warned that the alliances between the United States and Japan and South Korea could fall into a state of ineffectiveness. If the opposition between Japan and South Korea reaches its limit, the alliance relationship between Japan, the United States and the United States and South Korea, which is unified in military and strategic aspects, will have to disintegrate to a certain extent, leading to the weakening of the alliance structure in East Asia. There are signs of zero-sum between the Japan-US alliance and the US-ROK alliance.
Sheila believes that the United States played an important role in strengthening Japan-South Korea relations during the Obama administration, but the Trump administration has little interest in improving Japan-South Korea relations.
According to the Japan Broadcasting Association (NHK) on December 12, the first visit to Japan by David Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Affairs, came at a time when the debate between Japan and South Korea became more and more intense, and how he expressed himself became the focus of attention. Stilwells intimacy with Japan made it clear that he did not intend to mediate disputes between Japan and South Korea, but rather encouraged both sides to focus on other important issues in the region, especially the Korean issue.
On the same day, Harry Harris, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, also said that the contradiction between South Korea and Japan was best solved directly by the parties concerned. According to the South Korean East Asia Daily, Harris said that both Korea and Japan are mature countries with the ability to solve problems and there is room to solve problems through the Korean government, enterprises, Parliament and so on.
But Harris also said the United States would take action only if the parties could not solve the problem or had an impact on American businesses or security.
Compared with Japan, South Korea is more active and even eager to win the support of the United States. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Jing and U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo spoke by telephone on October 10 to discuss Japans export restrictions. According to Xinhua, Kang Jinghe told Pompeo that Japans export control against Korea not only damages the interests of Korean enterprises, but also may affect the global supply chain and endanger the interests of American enterprises.
Pompeo responded that he understood Kang Jings concerns and agreed that it was necessary to strengthen trilateral communication between the United States, South Korea and Japan.
According to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea has sent Kim Hyun-zong, the second director of the National Security Office, Kim Hi-hsiang, the director of the bilateral economic and Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Yu Mingxi, the second minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to visit the United States in succession.
Koreas Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Kim Hyun-zong, after ending his visit to the United States, said he did not directly ask the United States to mediate, if necessary, the United States will play its role. Reported that, although the Korean government used all diplomatic forces to gain the support of the United States, the United States insisted that this is a problem between Korea and Japan. South Korean diplomats said that Japan has explained the matter to the United States, South Koreas action slowed down a beat.