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Bring in the inspectors: Korea

Seoul denies import mismanagement - and challenges Japan

July 13,2019
Korea said Friday it would welcome an international investigation into its management of strategic high-tech materials - and that Japan should do the same.

One of Tokyo’s arguments for new export restrictions on three key industrial materials is that Korea didn’t supervise imports properly - and some may have been leaked to North Korea.

Kim You-geun, secretary general of the National Security Council and deputy director of national security for the Blue House, held a press conference Friday afternoon to announce Korea’s newest and most aggressive response to Japan’s export restrictions, which went into effect last week.

“In order to stop unnecessary disputes and to verify the Japanese government’s argument, the Korean government proposes that an expert panel of the United Nations [UN] Security Council or a proper international body conduct fair investigations into both Korea and Japan on their possible violations of four major international export control regimes [for non-proliferation],” Kim said.

“If the investigation finds Korean government mismanagement, we will apologize and immediately take necessary corrective measures,” Kim said. “But if the investigation concludes there was no misconduct by the Korean government, the Japanese government must not only apologize but also immediately withdraw the retaliatory export restrictions.

“An investigation must also be conducted on possible violations committed by Japan,” Kim said.

Starting July 4, Japan restricted exports to Korea of three key materials used in chipmaking and other industrial production, initially as a response to court rulings ordering compensation to Koreans forced to work in factories and mines in Japan during World War II. Tokyo insists that matter was settled with a 1965 pact.

As criticisms grew that Japan was economically retaliating in a diplomatic spat, Tokyo started using different grounds to justify its export restrictions. Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the measure was taken because of a “trust” issue involving Korea not properly managing trade in strategic goods.

Other politicians have gone as far as to suggest that Seoul may have violated sanctions on North Korea and that high-tech materials that can be used for military purposes may have ended up there.

“As a member of the UN, Korea has been thoroughly respecting UN Security Council sanctions to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at an early date,” Kim said. “We implement sanctions in an exemplary and transparent fashion, and the international community has highly praised our execution.

“To this end, Korea, Japan and the United States have closely cooperated to tightly control illegal maritime transshipment activities,” Kim said. “Over the past two years, Korea is the only country among the three to detain six ships suspected of illegal transshipment for up to 18 months. We are also closely cooperating with the UN sanctions committee on this matter.”

Kim said Korea is a faithful member of multilateral export control and nonproliferation conventions, refuting Japan’s argument about poor export supervision.

“We are members of all pacts and guidelines concerning the four major export control regimes,” Kim said, referring to the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies; the Australia Group dealing with trade control of chemical and bio weapon; the Nuclear Suppliers Group dealing with export control of nuclear materials and the Missile Technology Control Regime on key equipment and technology needed for missile development, production and operation.

“We have strictly controlled illicit transport of dual-use goods and strategic materials to a third country,” Kim said. “If any private company violated the government controls, no matter how small the violation was, we took necessary legal and administrative measures against it. We also made the cases public to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.

“Over the past four years, we have detected 150 cases and made them public, and that is proof that our government is transparently and thoroughly implementing the export control regimes,” Kim said, noting that most member countries of the multilateral pacts have also done so.

“Japan must ask itself if it is transparently operating its export control system through such measures,” Kim said.

On Thursday, a Korean lawmaker revealed documents suggesting Japan had, in the past, covertly exported strategic industrial materials to North Korea that could be used to develop chemical or nuclear weapons. Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the Bareunmirae Party cited documents from Japan’s Center for Information on Security Trade Controls that showed there were over 30 cases of unsanctioned exports from Japan to North Korea from 1996 to 2013. Among the items allegedly shipped to the North were dozens of kilograms of hydrogen fluoride and sodium fluoride, which can be used to make toxic gas such as sarin.

Kim said Friday that it is extremely deplorable that high-ranking officials of Japan were making groundless accusations against Korea, despite Seoul’s solid and clean track record. “We have shared information on our export control and sanctions implementation efforts with Japan through various consultations in the past,” Kim said. “The Japanese government must present clear evidence to prove its argument, if it has any.”

The announcement was by far the strongest reaction by the Korean government to Japan’s export restrictions. The statement was issued by the secretary general of the National Security Council, which is headed by President Moon Jae-in. Kim told reporters on Friday that it was the Blue House’s decision to issue the statement through him. “This is to send a strong message,” Kim said.

A senior presidential aide said Friday that the position will not be delivered to Japan through a diplomatic channel. Asked if Korea will take steps to request an international body conduct investigations into both countries without Japan’s response, he said, “For now, we made public our government’s position, and we will wait for the Japanese government’s stance.”

Meanwhile, Korea continued its diplomatic effort to persuade the United States to mediate the diplomatic row. Following meetings with senior U.S. officials, a top Blue House official said Thursday that Korea and the United States want to arrange a trilateral meeting with Japan next week, but Tokyo responded lukewarmly.

“Using the opportunity of a senior U.S. official’s trip to Asia, we pursued a high-level consultation among Korea, Japan and the United States, but Japan seems unenthusiastic about it,” said Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security adviser for the Blue House, Thursday after a series of meetings with the White House officials and members of the U.S. Congress.

David Stilwell, the newly appointed assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, started his first tour of Asia on Wednesday. He was to visit Japan, the Philippines, Korea and Thailand until July 21.

According to a State Department press release, Stilwell was to visit Tokyo until Sunday and Manila from Monday until Tuesday. He will be in Seoul on Wednesday and visit Bangkok on Thursday and Friday. No schedule was fixed for his final two days in Asia, indicating that a trilateral meeting among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington could be arranged at the last minute.

“It is better for the three countries to meet and find a more constructive way, but we haven’t heard from Japan yet,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday. “Korea and the United States are very eager to meet, but Japan is reluctant.”

On Wednesday, Kim had meetings with Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, as well as members of Congress. According to Kim, Mulvaney expressed hope that Korea and Japan - both allies of the United States - will resolve the dispute in a constructive manner. Kim said members of Congress also said the matter should be settled as soon as possible.

Later Thursday, Kim met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was his counterpart when he served as Korea’s trade minister. They talked for about 30 minutes and Kim expressed satisfaction. “We had a good talk about various issues concerning Korea and the United States,” Kim said. “Lighthizer believes that [Korea and Japan] will resolve the matter smoothly and he agreed to let us know if he finds a resolution.”

On Friday, Kim is scheduled for talks with Deputy National Security Adviser Charles Kupperman. While denuclearization of North Korea is a key issue, other pending topics will also be discussed, Kim said.

The U.S. State Department said Thursday that it will put efforts into improving trilateral cooperation among Korea, Japan and the United States. Asked about possible U.S. mediation, spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said, “I would say that Japan and South Korea are, of course, not only friends, they’re allies.

“And the United States - and of course here at the State Department, we’re going to do everything we can to pursue ways to strengthen our relationships between and amongst all three countries, both publicly and behind the scenes.”

Seoul also sent an additional veteran diplomat to Washington. Deputy Minister for Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Yun Kang-hyeon went to Washington Thursday to use his contacts. Yun had successfully persuaded the United States last year to extend a sanctions wavier on Iran’s petroleum exports to Korea.

Yun met with Matt Pottinger, senior director for Asian Affairs for the National Security Council, and Allison Hooker, Korea specialist on the National Security Council, and explained Seoul’s position in the diplomatic row with Tokyo.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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