Set aside emotions
North Korean missiles give reality check for Seoul, Tokyo
The foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan had talks over the phone for about 20 minutes, Friday -- their first conversation since Tokyo restricted exports of three key industrial materials to Seoul on July 4.
This, hopefully, will be a meaningful first step to normalize dialogue channels between the two countries, and find a diplomatic solution to the ongoing trade row.
We note that the telephone talks came a day after North Korea fired two missiles into the East Sea. The South Korean military said after an overnight analysis that they were a new type of short-range ballistic missile similar to Russia's Iskander, and flew about 600 kilometers before landing in the sea. The flight distance is enough to hit the U.S. naval base at Sasebo and the U.S. airbase on Iwakuni, both in southwestern Japan.
Pyongyang's latest missile launch is apparently serving as a wake-up call for both Seoul and Tokyo. It is still early to predict whether relations will be restored anytime soon, but one thing looks quite clear. They at least share a common interest over the North's provocative actions.
Concerns have been raised that the Seoul-Tokyo trade dispute will affect their security cooperation as well. As Japan was moving to toughen export restrictions on South Korea, the latter hinted at the possibility that it would discard the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact signed in 2016 to jointly counter threats from North Korea.
But the North Korean missiles provided a chance for a reality check.
During the phone talks, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono discussed the missile launches and Japan's export control measures.
They shared the common view that close cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States is crucial in tackling Pyongyang, the foreign ministry said.
But what is needed first is to restore trust between Seoul and Tokyo. And this is impossible without resolving the trade row.
Kang urged Kono to remove the export restrictions for the three key materials needed to produce semiconductors and displays, South Korea's top export items. Kang also warned of Japan's move to take South Korea off its "whitelist" of countries enjoying preferential treatment in export procedures, saying the delisting, if implemented, will aggravate tensions.
Given the proposed measure may affect exports of over 1,000 items to South Korea, we regard it as a de facto declaration of a full-scale trade war. It would surely push the situation to the point of no return.
So South Korea and Japan should sit back and see what is best for them in the face of North Korea. They need strategic thinking, not emotions, at the moment. They should reach out to each other to mend fences.
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