The office of President Moon Jae-in expressed "strong regret" Wednesday over Japan's export restrictions against South Korea and also urged Tokyo to "hold hands" extended by Seoul to resolve a related problem diplomatically.
In a statement issued after Japan finally demoted South Korea's trade status, Cheong Wa Dae also reaffirmed that Seoul can reconsider its decision to terminate a bilateral pact on sharing military intelligence if Tokyo changes tack.
"The government strongly regrets the latest action taken by Japan," Deputy National Security Adviser Kim Hyun-chong said. He was referring to Tokyo's step, effective on the day, to remove Seoul from the so-called whitelist of trade partners deemed trustworthy in terms of handling strategic materials.
He unusually mentioned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by name, saying he is treating South Korea like an "adversary."
He pointed out Abe's repeated public remarks that South Korea is not abiding by international law and can't be trusted.
It's the Japanese government that has tied a national security issue with the export control, he said.
Such a move, he added, is the reason for South Korea's decision not to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).
He reaffirmed that Seoul can reconsider the GSOMIA decision, made last week, if Tokyo retracts its trade retaliation. The agreement is to expire in late November.
A day earlier, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said South Korea can think again about the fate of GSOMIA if Japan withdraws the trade measure before its expiration.
"Let me point out that the ball is now in Japan's court," Kim said at a press conference.
Responding to Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono's assertion that "if South Korea is trying to rewrite history, it won't be possible," Kim said it's actually Japan who is seeking to do so.
He recalled Moon's message in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech that, "If Japan chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands."
"We hope Japan will grasp the hand that we have reached out," Kim said.
He also dismissed worries about potential negative effects to the Seoul-Washington alliance from the absence of GSOMIA.
"It is wrong to assume that the termination of GSOMIA between Korea and Japan will lead to fissures in the South Korea-U.S alliance and create huge problems in our ability to respond to security threats against us," he said.
He stressed that the decadeslong alliance will "not be easily shaken" by the GSOMIA issue.
He said South Korea will instead redouble efforts to beef up its own defense capabilities and bolster the alliance, as it mulls over the acquisition of such core assets as military reconnaissance satellites, light aircraft carriers and next-generation submarines.
Kim reiterated that it's natural for U.S. officials to be "disappointed" by South Korea's GSOMIA decision as they want it to stay alive.
He stressed that it does not mean there is a crack in the alliance or a rift between the two sides.
The word "disappointment" is a "diplomatic expression that the United States uses publicly when there are policy differences with an ally or a partner," he said.
Kim's assessment differed, however, from the tone of U.S. officials' responses shown in multiple statements, including a Twitter message by the State Department's spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.
It read, "We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the ROK's government terminated the General Security of Military Information Agreement #GSOMIA. This will make defending #Korea more complicated and increase risk to U.S. forces." ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name.
Before making the GSOMIA decision, Kim said, South Korea had close consultations with the U.S. through the "house-to-house" channel, which means the White House and the Blue House, a nickname of Cheong Wa Dae.
South Korea clearly informed the U.S. that it would have no other choice but to kill GSOMIA unless Japan budges, according to Kim.
"In that sense, we said the U.S. 'understands' our position," he added.
South Korea's stance is that it's unreasonable to maintain the military pact with a nation that does not trust it.
It also evaluated "quantitatively and qualitatively" the usefulness of information provided by Japan under GSOMIA, signed in 2016, Kim said.
When North Korea launched a series of missiles and other projectiles in recent weeks, South Korea was able to identify their speeds, flying distances and some other details with its own assets and U.S. ones alone, he said.
South Korea has the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement (TISA) in place as well, under which Washington serves as an intermediary, he added. (Yonhap)