|Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy chief of the presidential National Security Office (NSO), speaks to reporters after arriving at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., Wednesday. Yonhap|
By Do Je-hae
Cheong Wa Dae is pulling out all the stops as it seeks to deal with the escalating trade row with Japan.
President Moon Jae-in sent one of the country's most seasoned trade specialists to the United States to seek its support in the dispute with Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe triggered the conflict by announcing stricter export regulations on three source materials used by Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display panels.
Kim Hyun-chong, second deputy chief of the presidential National Security Office (NSO), arrived in Washington D.C., Wednesday (local time), drawing much attention amid the worsening dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.
Regarding his trip, a top presidential aide said that the specifics could not be confirmed. "It is not possible to disclose the duration of the trip as it is subject to change due to circumstances. Bilateral issues, including the current Japanese export controls, will likely be discussed," the aide said.
Upon arriving at the Dulles International Airport, Kim told reporters he would be meeting with officials from both houses of Congress to discuss a range of bilateral issues, and that seeking Washington's possible mediation in the trade dispute with Japan was one of them.
Kim plans to meet his U.S. counterpart Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman and other relevant officials within the Trump administration and on Capitol Hill to explain the current situation with Japan and convince them of the need for U.S. intervention, given the negative global impact due to Tokyo's tightened export regulations, Cheong Wa Dae sources said.
With his extensive background both in government and the corporate sector, Kim has emerged as President Moon's key man in dealing with the trade friction with Japan. He served as a legal chief at Samsung before being rehired as a trade minister by President Moon in August 2017 after serving in the post from 2004 through 2007 during the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, when he headed the Korea-U.S. FTA negotiations.
Kim's U.S visit comes a day after President Moon held a meeting at Cheong Wa Dae where he stressed that the government will place emphasis on diplomacy as the primary means to tackle the deepening conflict with Japan. To this end, one of the possible avenues for a diplomatic breakthrough reportedly being considered is a presidential envoy to Japan.
On a related note, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon has also hinted at sending a special envoy. Earlier this week, Cheong Wa Dae denied the possibility, saying it was not the right time. "We checked the prime minister's remarks and we believe he meant that various diplomatic measures were being sought," a presidential aide said. "We can only confirm things when details are revealed.
Due to the urgent actions by Cheong Wa Dae, however, there are concerns that the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is being undermined.
Concerns over the foreign ministry's passiveness were raised again when Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha left for Africa, Wednesday, for a week-long tour of Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa. The minister's senses of priority was questioned because of the diplomatic impasse due to the intensifying conflict with Japan.
Although the foreign minister is in Africa, Kang held phone talks with her U.S. counterpart Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and delivered Korea's concerns on the trade row.
According to the ministry, Kang said that Japan's restrictions are not only causing damage to Korean firms, but are also disrupting the global supply system, which could negatively impact global trade and U.S. tech companies given their heavy dependence on procuring memory chips and advanced flat-screens from Samsung and LG technology affiliates. The ministry said that Pompeo expressed his understanding toward Korea's position.