South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency Cabinet meeting Friday in an attempt to deal with the intensification of Seoul’s trade standoff with Japan.
As had been feared but widely expected, Tokyo’s Cabinet earlier in the day approved a motion to remove the South from a ‘whitelist’ of trusted trade partners, having last month applied a stricter process for exports of three chemicals deemed vital for the production of key local tech products.
When South Korea is removed from the ‘whitelist’ 21 days after Friday’s approval, Japanese exporters will require licenses to move over 1,000 items to the South – on the basis that they might be used for military purposes.
Seoul’s presidential office expressed “deep regret” over the decision and vowed to cope with Tokyo’s “unfair” measure in a “resolute” manner, according to local news agency Yonhap.
The South Korean government is also setting up a related task force as the country’s economic growth has already been sluggish this year, while the Bank of Korea additionally arranged an emergency meeting Friday.
Tokyo’s justification for its trade moves against the South this summer has been on security grounds and to prevent sensitive materials from finding their way into North Korea, but reports generally claim Japan is targeting Seoul on political grounds due to clashes over historical issues.
South Korea already asked the United States to mediate, given Washington’s close ties to both countries, and the top diplomats of all three nations plan to meet in Thailand later in the day.
The U.S. appears to be particularly concerned about the possible consequences for its regional alliances and security if Seoul cancels a military intelligence sharing agreement with Tokyo.
So far, South Korea’s main response has come in the form of a consumer-led boycott against Japanese products and travel.
By Alex Jensen in Seoul