The government said Tuesday it had raised the issue of Tokyo’s economic retaliatory measures against Seoul at a World Trade Organization meeting amid intensifying tensions between the two countries, stemming from a long-standing dispute regarding forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
During a meeting of the WTO’s Council for Trade in Goods held in Geneva, Ambassador to Geneva Paik Ji-ah said that that Japan’s restrictions on exports of key chemicals used to make high-tech components to South Korea went against free trade principles.
The meeting was held Monday and Tuesday.
The envoy called for a prompt withdrawal and a clarification on the grounds of the export restrictions taken by Japan, stressing the invalidity of what Japan claimed to be grounds for such action — “damage to trust” and “inappropriate situation” — under the current WTO rules.
Paik also expressed regrets over Japan’s decision for the retaliatory action after it hosted a G-20 summit last month where leaders had clearly confirmed the need for free, fair and non-discriminatory trade policies.
Seoul also plans to raise the issue at a general council meeting of the WTO, which will take place July 23-24.
“It is hard to expect us to be able to reach an agreement on the issue, as the WTO requires a unanimous vote but we expect that (addressing the issue) will rouse the international community’s public opinion concerning Japan’s unfair measures,” a Foreign Ministry official said.
Tensions between South Korea and Japan escalated over the last few days after Japan tightened restrictions on several key chemical exports to South Korea in an apparent response to last year’s Supreme Court rulings here against Japanese firms over wartime forced labor.
On Monday, President Moon Jae-in urged Japan to withdraw export restrictions that hurt South Korea’s semiconductors and display panels industries and called for sincere negotiations between the two countries.
The Japanese government has removed Korea from the list of countries that receive preferential treatment in importing fluorine polyimide, resist and etching gas from Japanese firms.
Speaking to lawmakers during the first day of the interpellation session, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Tuesday criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent remark suggesting South Korea may not be complying with trade restrictions against the North.
Appearing on Japanese television Sunday, Abe said it was natural to suspect that South Korea may not abide by related UN resolutions, saying the South has not adhered to the accord on settling problems associated with Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of Korea.
“(Abe’s remark) is a dangerous comment that could threaten the security order that we have been maintaining for a long time,” Lee said.
The United Nations Security Council has assessed South Korea as faithfully implementing sanctions resolutions imposed on North Korea, he said.
Meanwhile, Japan is reportedly planning another round of export curbs for South Korea that could target a broader range of items that could include those used in weapons production, including machine tools.