Hong Nam-ki, minister of economy and finance, speaks in a meeting with officials in Seoul on July 17, 2019. [Photo provided by the Ministry of Economy and Finance]
South Korea’s Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki challenged Tokyo to comply with Seoul’s proposal to invite a third-party investigation to examine whether any of the two governments violated international sanctions by enabling illicit shipments to North Korea.
“I see no reason why Japan should hesitate to agree to an independent probe since it has cited the fear of dual-use items falling into North Korean hands as a reason for curbing certain strategic materials to South Korea,” Hong told reporters after chairing an economic cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Seoul formally made the proposal last week through Kim You-geun, secretary-general of the National Security Council, who suggested inviting an international agency to verify Japan’s accusation that South Korea had exported sensitive goods to the North in violation of international sanctions. Seoul also demanded Tokyo face a similar probe by pointing to cases that showed more Japanese goods had slipped into North Korea.
North Korea has been put under multiple United Nations sanctions since 2006 for its missile and nuclear weapon programs. Member countries have been banned from exporting luxury to everyday goods to the regime, not to mention materials that could go into its weapons program.
Earlier this month, Japan restricted exports to Korea of three materials used to make semiconductors and displays, citing “inadequate management” of the sensitive items that can also be used in chemical weapons. This was followed by reports from Japanese media that hydrogen fluoride, one of the materials subject to the curbs, was shipped to North Korea through the South.
Hong stood by the argument of Korean officials that Japan’s trade curbs were “economic retaliation” for Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Tokyo said they were not retaliation, but cited “broken trust” with South Korea as one of the reasons behind the export restrictions.
Hong said the extra budget to cope with the Japanese curbs may have to be stretched from the government’s initial estimate of 120 billion won ($101.6 million) to fund the materials sector and accelerate localization of supplies necessary for component production. The government proposed in April a 6.7 trillion-won supplementary budget to prop up the slowing economy. The bill is still pending in parliament.
By Chung Seok-woo and Kim Hyo-jin
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