By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and leaders of the country’s major political parties vowed on Thursday to work together to resolve a worsening political and economic dispute with Japan.
Moon met leaders of five parties to discuss Japan’s recent export restrictions on some high-tech materials used by major South Korean companies, as well as a dispute over Japan’s wartime use of forced labourers.
According to Yonhap news agency, Shim Sang-jeung of the minor opposition Justice Party told reporters afterwards that national security officials had said they may reconsider an intelligence sharing agreement with Japan if the dispute worsens.
The political leaders said that Japan’s export curbs were an “unjust economic retaliation” and agreed to work together to mitigate the impact the dispute may have on the South Korean economy, they said in a joint statement after the meeting.
“The government and both ruling and opposing parties will make bipartisan efforts to cooperate against Japan’s economic retaliation and minimise any economic damage,” the statement said.
The leaders said they would seek to strengthen South Korea’s competitive edge in its tech industries as well as shore up the fundamentals of the national economy.
“We demand the Japanese government withdraw its retaliatory economic measures immediately, and seek a diplomatic resolution rather than take additional measures,” the statement said, warning Tokyo not to remove South Korea from its “white list” of countries with minimum trade restrictions.
Moon’s economic policies have faced growing criticism over the past year, while some business figures have questioned his administration’s handling of the widening feud with Japan.
The South Korean population, however, has generally supported the Moon administration’s willingness to relitigate what they see as unresolved historical disputes dating back to Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula before and during World War II.
Moon’s approval ratings rose 2.9 percentage points from a week earlier on the back of the spread of anti-Japan sentiment and his administration’s stern messages over Japan’s export curbs, pollster Realmeter said on Thursday.
In an earlier survey on Tuesday, 73% of South Koreans said the government’s response to Japan’s export curbs was appropriate or should be stronger.
In a Realmeter survey on Wednesday about 55% of respondents said they are boycotting Japanese products, up 6.6% points from a week earlier.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith. Additional reporting by Minwoo Park.; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)