SEOUL – South Korea on Wednesday slammed Japan for effectively downgrading Seoul’s trade status and accused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of treating the neighbor as an “adversary.”
The comments are the latest in a bitter tit-for-tat row stemming from a long-running diplomatic dispute over Japan’s use of forced labor during its colonial rule over the peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
They came as Tokyo’s removal of the South from its “whitelist” of trusted trade partners went into effect — Seoul has already announced it will reciprocate, and last week said it will terminate a military information-sharing pact with Japan, raising concerns in Washington, which has security treaties with both.
“Prime Minister Abe commented twice that Korea cannot be trusted and is treating us like an adversary,” said Kim Hyun-chong, a national security official at the presidential Blue House.
He insisted Seoul’s decision to terminate the intelligence-sharing deal, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement, would not lead to “fissures” in the alliance between the U.S. and the South.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s prime minister on Wednesday urged Japan to agree to talks to repair ties between the two countries.
Lee Nak-yeon, speaking at a meeting with other government ministers, said the South Korean government will at the same time proceed “without delay” to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization to remedy Japan’s “unfair economic retaliation.”
The latest move, which comes after Tokyo last month implemented tighter controls on exports of some materials needed by South Korean semiconductor and display panel manufacturers, is certain to escalate the spat between the neighboring countries.
Japan has cited national security concerns for imposing the tougher export rules, which were announced in early July. But the measures are widely seen as retaliation for rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court last year that ordered some Japanese companies to compensate individuals over wartime forced labor.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Lee emphasized the need to hold talks between South Korea and Japan to prevent the situation from worsening, while pledging to prepare measures to strengthen the competitiveness of domestically produced parts and components.
To advance the latter measures, the South Korean government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea decided at a meeting earlier Wednesday to allocate 5 trillion won (¥435.97 trillion; $4.12 billion) to a budget over three years from next year as part of a move to halt the South Korean industry’s reliance on Japanese materials and components.
As ties between the two neighbors sank to their lowest point in decades, the South Korean presidential office said last week that the country is terminating a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that helps the U.S. allies counter threats from North Korea.
Lee said Monday the decision to pull out of GSOMIA could be reconsidered if Japan cancels its trade measures by the time the accord terminates in late November.