SEOUL - The Republic of Korea said on Friday that it wants an investigation by the United Nations or another international body as it continues to reject Japanese claims that Seoul could not be trusted to faithfully implement sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Kim You-geun, deputy director of the ROK's presidential national security office, said Seoul has been thoroughly implementing UN sanctions against Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program. He demanded that Japan provide evidence for claims made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his aides that there may have been illegal transfers of sensitive materials from the ROK to the DPRK.
Tokyo last week tightened the approval process for Japanese shipments of photoresists and other sensitive materials to the ROK, saying such materials can be exported only to trustworthy trading partners. The move, which could potentially hurt ROK technology companies that manufacture semiconductors and display screens used in TVs and smartphones, has triggered a full-blown diplomatic dispute between the countries that further soured relations long troubled over Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula before the end of World War II.
Kim said the ROK government proposes Japan accept an inquiry by the UN or another international body over the export controls of both countries to end "needless arguments" and to clearly prove whether the Japanese claims are true or not.
He said Seoul has been imposing stringent export controls on arms and sensitive materials that can be used for both civilian and military purposes as a signatory of major international pacts that govern such transactions.
"If the result of the investigation reveals that our government did something wrong, our government will apologize for it and immediately apply measures to correct it," said Kim, reading a prepared statement on live TV.
"If the result shows that our government has done nothing wrong, the Japanese government should not only apologize but also immediately withdraw the exports restrictions that have the characteristics of a (political) retaliation. There also should be a thorough investigation on (any) Japanese violation," he said.
The ROK, an export-dependent economy that is the world's biggest supplier of computer chips and displays, sees the Japanese trade curbs as retaliation for ROK court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate aging Korean plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II.
It plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization and has denied the Japanese allegations that it allowed sensitive materials to reach the DPRK. The Foreign Ministry in Seoul summoned a Japanese embassy official on Monday to protest Abe's comments that questioned the credibility of Seoul's sanctions implementation.
Meanwhile in Tokyo, export officials from both sides sat down together on Friday for the first time since the crisis erupted.
The meeting started in an icy atmosphere, with officials skipping handshakes and staring at each other across the table in silence for several minutes amid ceaseless clicks of camera shutters. The officials made no comments immediately.
Meanwhile, Kim Hyun-chong, another ROK senior official, was in Washington to meet with officials from the White House and Congress as Seoul sought US help to end its diplomatic row with Japan.