In Korean-Japanese relations, history-related issues are like an awl in a trouser pocket. They sometimes prick us. However, our two countries have so far gathered wisdom and managed to keep history-related issues separate to prevent them from undermining bilateral cooperation in economic, cultural, diplomatic and security realms.
I, too, have stressed on several occasions that our two countries should continue to work together for the sake of forward-looking bilateral relations while harnessing insight to address history-related issues. I should first point out that Japan’s unprecedented tying of history-related issues to economic ones at this time is truly ill-advised conduct that goes against the history of progress in bilateral relations.
The Korean Government has proposed to the Japanese Government a diplomatic approach to smoothly resolve the issue of how to implement the Supreme Court rulings regarding the victims of forced labor during World War II. The Korean Government has never claimed that its proposal is the only way to solve the problem. It was a suggestion that the two countries discuss reasonable measures together to obtain an understanding shared by our two peoples and the victims.
Nonetheless, the Japanese Government, even without any diplomatic consultation or effort, has suddenly taken unilateral steps. I hope the Japanese Government will set aside its one-sided pressure and come back to the table for a diplomatic solution before it’s too late.
Japan initially cited the rulings of the Supreme Court of Korea regarding the victims of forced labor as a reason for its action. When it failed to elicit support from the international community by attempting to link these rulings in civil lawsuits between individual victims and Japanese businesses to trade issues, Japan changed its wording to imply that its action was due to suspicions that Korea had made unauthorized shipments of strategic materials and violated international sanctions against North Korea.
However, this constitutes a grave challenge to the Korean Government as it has been not only implementing the four main multilateral export control regimes in an exemplary manner but also complying with United Nations Security Council resolutions and making all-out efforts for the advancement of inter-Korean relations and peace on the Korean Peninsula within the framework of sanctions. Moreover, Japan’s action casts doubts over the concerted efforts of the international community which is supporting the Korean Government’s endeavors and joining in the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
If Japan actually had such suspicions, it could have raised the issue with Korea in a manner befitting a friendly country or through an international monitoring organization. Having made no such prior accusations, however, it raised such doubts out of nowhere. Amidst the ensuing controversy, it has come out that, conversely, there have been problems with Japan’s export controls.
The two countries no longer need to engage in wasteful disputes about this. If Japan does not intend to cast away its accusations, as already proposed by the Korean Government, the two nations should be able to clear away any suspicions by jointly commissioning an investigation by an international organization and accepting the results.
Our two countries’ economies are deeply interlocked. Since the normalization of diplomatic ties, we have developed our own economies through mutual cooperation. Notably, despite colossal trade deficits, Korea’s manufacturing industry has grown with that of its Japanese counterparts, building on a process that is closely tied from the production of parts and materials to finished goods in line withthe international division of labor. Japan’s recent export curbs are tantamount to breaking the framework of bilateral economic cooperation that has been built up through interdependence and coexistence over the past half a century. This is why the Korean Government cannot but take the Japanese Government’s export curbs very seriously.
Furthermore, Japan's export restrictions differ from their conventional methods and objectives that they sought when aiming to protect domestic industries from being damaged.
We cannot help but take note of the fact that the Japanese Government has chosen materials used for semiconductors – the core elements of the Korean economy’s competitiveness – as its first step in restricting exports. Japan’s action is the same as impeding the Korean economy’s progress at a time when higher growth is being sought.
If that is Japan’s intention, it will never succeed. Korean companies may face temporary setbacks, but we will prevail once more this time just as we have overcome several economic crises in the past by the whole nation joining forces.
Rather, as Japan’s action breaks trust in the division of labor in manufacturing with Japan, Korean companies will diversify import sources or commence localization in a bid to break away from their dependence on materials, parts and equipment from Japan. I warn that, in the end, this is going to bring more damage to the Japanese economy.
The Government is firmly determined to turn this into an opportunity for the Korean economy – a blessing in disguise. The Government will do all it can for diplomatic solutions. At the same time, it will do everything in its power to help businesses confidently respond to the situation. We will give even more impetus to the efforts to improve economic fundamentals, as we had already begun to push for.
We will prevail over this situation regardless of the circumstances. I hope the people will have confidence and rally behind local businesses so that they can surmount this hardship.
We have built up our national strength in the process of overcoming numerous crises. We have built today’s Republic of Korea by rising above challenges even tougher than those facing us now. It has always been the people’s strength that has overcome countless crises and challenges. The Government and I will make it through this grave situation with constant faith in the people’s strength.
I urge bipartisan cooperation from the National Assembly and politicians. I earnestly ask you to swiftly cooperate if you take the current economic situation seriously. That would be the greatest boost that the Government and Korean companies could receive to overcome this grave situation.