South Korea fired back at Japan over a deepening trade dispute on Friday, pledging it would not be “defeated again” by its neighbor, laying bare decades-old animosity at the root of a row over fast-track export status.
During a rare live television broadcast of his cabinet meeting, President Moon Jae-in threatened countermeasures after Japan’s cabinet approved the removal of South Korea’s fast-track export status from Aug. 28.
Dropping South Korea from a so-called “white list” of favored export destinations means some Japanese exporters face more paperwork and on-site inspections before they can secure permits, potentially slowing exports of a wide range of goods.
Relations between the two U.S. allies began to deteriorate late last year following a row over compensation for wartime forced laborers during Japan’s occupation, but President Moon’s comments were the starkest yet.
“We won’t be defeated by Japan again,” Moon told his cabinet, pointedly invoking South Korea’s difficult history with Japan, which colonized the Korean peninsula before World War Two.
He described Japan as a “selfish nuisance” for a decision that threatens to disrupt global supply chains, and aired suspicions over its motive for hobbling a rival economy.
Top officials followed Moon in blaming Japan, South Korea’s security partner in a region where both are the biggest allies of the United States.
Kim Hyun-chong, Moon’s deputy national security adviser, criticized Tokyo as an obstacle to the South’s effort to build peace with North Korea, calling Japan’s step a “public affront”.
South Korea will review whether to maintain a military information sharing pact with its neighbor, Kim added.
South Korea’s countermeasures will see it drop Japan from its own list of favored trading partners and hasten filing of a complaint to the World Trade Organization over Japan’s export controls, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said.
Its foreign ministry summoned the Japanese ambassador to be told by a vice foreign minister that Japan was no longer considered a friendly nation.