National / Politics

Japan rejects South Korea's offer to extend intel-sharing pact for retraction of trade controls

Kyodo

Japan has decided to reject South Korea’s offer to extend a military intelligence-sharing pact scheduled to expire in November in exchange for Tokyo easing tightened trade controls, government sources said Friday.

South Korea last month notified Japan that it is pulling out of the bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which helps the U.S. allies counter missile threats from North Korea.

Lee Nak-yon, the South’s prime minister, has said the termination of the pact could be avoided if Japan puts South Korea back on its “whitelist” of trusted countries that enjoy minimum trade restrictions on goods that have military applications. The pact is set to expire on Nov. 22.

But a Japanese government official dismissed the overture, saying, “We cannot condone negotiations to barter trade controls with security cooperation. They’re completely different issues.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said the issues are in “completely different dimensions.”

Kenji Kanasugi, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, relayed the stance to his South Korean counterpart, Kim Jung-han, during a meeting in Seoul late last month, a diplomatic source said.

In addition to removing South Korea from the whitelist, Japan has imposed stricter controls on exports of some crucial materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels, potentially dealing a major blow to industrial giants Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc., among others.

Tokyo has said the measures are meant to address national security concerns, though Seoul considers them retaliation in a dispute over legal reparations for forced wartime labor.

Relations between the countries have sunk to a new low following rulings by South Korea’s Supreme Court and other courts last year ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime labor.

Japan says the issue of compensation was settled “finally and completely” by the 1965 bilateral accord both nations signed to normalize diplomatic relations, under which Japan provided South Korea with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid.

While Japan denies a direct connection between the rulings and its tightening of trade controls, it says they are the underlying reason that ties have soured.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told aides he is in no hurry to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, preferring to wait until the issue is resolved, government sources have said.

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