Japan telegraphed its retaliation plan, but no one listened

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Japan telegraphed its retaliation plan, but no one listened

In November, a former high-ranking government official who worked at both the Foreign Ministry and the Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry made a call to both his employers warning them that the Japanese government could retaliate after the Korean Supreme Court ruled Japanese companies are liable for damages related to forced labor during the colonial period.

The response: “OK.”

“I was able to spot movements of retaliation by the Japanese government through various channels and reported the findings,” the former government official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “I told them that officials from the Japanese government and executives from the private sector well informed on Korea offered the tip and advised that the [Korean] government needs to prepare a contingency plan.”

The former government official said Monday’s export restrictions on a number of key materials used in electronics manufacturing were just a few of 100 retaliation measures considered by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trade experts say the Japanese government could up the pressure by taking aim at the import of agricultural and fishery goods, limiting purchases of Korean strategic defense goods, capping the number of short-term work visas for Koreans and even liming the amount of money wired to and from Korea.

Yukiko Fukagawa, a Waseda University professor of political science and economics, told the JoongAng Ilbo that various government departments in Japan have been planning a joint strategy and reviewing measures that could have a serious impact on the Korean economy over a long period of time.

She said the Japanese government has looked into measures that are in legal “grey zones.” Its measures are very different from those taken by China, which retaliated against Korea in ways that clearly violate international agreements.

Warnings have already been telegraphed via various channels, official and unofficial. Yet the Korean government did not respond or even take note.

“According to the Japanese news, the Japanese government is reviewing around 190 possible actions against Korea,” said Shin Gak-soo, former Korean ambassador to Japan. “It is sad that we have reached to this point when [the Korean government] should have calmly countered beforehand.”

Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, in March said the Japanese government could take various retaliatory actions, including halting remittances and visa issuance if Japanese companies are harmed by the Korean Supreme Court decision.

The Korean government has been accused of not recognizing the severity of the situation.

“Earlier this year during an overseas forum, an official from Japan’s Finance Ministry gave me a heads up that there was a possibility of retaliation,” said another former government official. “And an official from the private sector said it was crazy for the Korean government to hold an investor relations event and request Japanese companies to invest in Korea during such a time.”

Some experts say while the problem should be solved through political and diplomatic channels, ultimately the course ahead will be charted by President Moon Jae-in and Abe.

“It is true that the action, which goes against Japan’s market economy and free trade, is excessive,” said Park Young-jun, professor at Korea National Defense University.

“The two heads of states have to come up with a solution by arranging meetings, including at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.”

BY LEE DONG-HYUN, MOON HEE-CHUL [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]
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