Anybody to mediate?
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The expansion of the trade war is imminent as Japan is about to exclude Korea from a list of countries eligible for preferential treatment in trade. Korea has made efforts to persuade the United States to intervene. A delegation of the government, National Assembly and civilians visited Washington D.C. Trade minister Yoo Myung-hee, Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy chief of the Blue House National Security Office, a National Assembly delegation that includes former speaker of the National Assembly Rep. Chung Se-gyun, and civilian groups such as the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy contacted the U.S. government, Congress and think tanks. They had the same conclusion: The United States cannot intervene or become a mediator, and they only hoped the two countries would work it out.
Marc Knapper, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan at the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, revealed his thoughts to the Korean lawmakers in a meeting last Thursday. He said he heard from the Japanese government and companies about the discord between Korea and Japan and that he also understood Korea’s position. He added that the best the United States could do was to create an environment for the two countries to talk, as siding with one could hurt the alliance. It means that the United States’ role was limited to urging Korea and Japan to talk or prepare an environment for dialogue, since U.S. President Donald Trump likes both President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as he has said before.
One lawmaker claims no asked the U.S. to mediate and added what the U.S. wanted from the Korea-Japan discord seemed to be the relocation of Samsung Electronics or Hyundai Motors factories to the United States.
It seems an unlikely worry that the U.S. would take advantage of the crisis between the allies. The site selection for a semiconductor factory could take at least 10 years. Rather, those who are familiar with the Korea-Japan discord, like Knapper, have a fixed mindset that intervening in the row won’t lead to good outcomes as it’s a tricky issue. As U.S. concerns about Korea-Japan relations have been conveyed through various channels since earlier this year, U.S. politicians seemed tired from the aggravation of the discord.
In the end, Korea needs to stand up against Japan’s escalated offensive. If Japan goes ahead with excluding Korea from the preferential list, Korea needs to make plans for the expected $20 billion losses annually. As Moon has made it clear, it is inevitable to diversify imports and localize productions to escape from dependency on Japan. Emotional responses cannot deal with the reality. It is also up to Korea to make a political determination to fundamentally resolve the situation.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 30, Page 28