National Security Council director Chung Eui-yong and other members reaffirmed the need to step up diplomatic efforts so that Japan can withdraw "unfair export restrictions." Japan strengthened regulations on exports of key materials. Officials and business leaders have expressed concern about irrecoverable trade relations between Seoul and Tokyo if Japan takes additional measures, including the removal of South Korea from a so-called "white list" of trusted importers.
"Our government decided to take stern action, including all possible measures, if Japan aggravates the situation further without withdrawing such measures, despite our efforts," the council said in a statement released the presidential office.
The council did not reveal what action to take, but the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) that enables Seoul and Tokyo to share military information in the face of common threats has been mentioned as a target of initial retribution. Chung has stressed that Seoul can review it only if a trade conflict intensifies.
The conservative government of South Korea's jailed ex-president Park Geun-hye endorsed the rare military accord in November 2016 at the height of North Korean missile and nuclear threats, with the blessing of Washington which wants a trilateral security alliance with Seoul and Tokyo.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, will meet on August 1 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok, Thailand, Kang's office said. That would be the first meeting of foreign ministers from the two countries since Tokyo pushed ahead with export restrictions on July 4.
Tokyo's trade retaliation sparked a broad boycott campaign against Japanese products, especially among young people who had been generally indifferent to a diplomatic row related to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. A Gallup Korea survey published on July 26 showed that 80 percent of South Koreans were reluctant to buy Japanese products.
At the center of the latest row between Seoul and Tokyo is a decision by South Korea's highest court in October last year that acknowledged individual rights to get compensation for South Korean workers who were drafted for forced labor during Japan's 1910~45 colonial rule. Seoul proposed a joint fund put together by South Korean and Japanese firms, while Tokyo wanted an arbitration panel brokered by a third country.
The Supreme Court upheld a 2013 ruling that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate Korean victims. Tens of thousands of Koreans were forced to work under harsh conditions for Japan, but many have died.
Japan has insisted colonial-era issues were settled in a 1965 agreement that restored diplomatic ties with the payment of $500 million. However, supreme court justices ruled that they cannot accept the Japanese court's ruling because it ran against South Korea's constitutional value and was based on the premise that forced labor during Japan's colonial rule was legitimate.
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