Japan is highly likely to pass a bill later this week to remove South Korea from its "whitelist" of trusted trade partners, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, in what would be an additional economic retaliatory measure in a row over wartime forced labor.
"The bill is expected to be passed at a Cabinet meeting and undergo procedures ... before it comes into effect in late August," the ministry said in a report submitted to the National Assembly.
On July 4, Japan imposed tighter restrictions on exports to South Korea of three key chemicals vital to manufacturing memory chips and displays, in apparent retaliation for last year's South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate forced labor victims.
Japan has strongly protested the rulings, arguing that all reparation issues were settled by a 1965 accord that normalized the bilateral relations.
In addition to the export restrictions, Tokyo has been pushing to take South Korea off the list of 27 countries given special treatment in purchasing Japanese dual-use products that can be diverted for military use.
Speaking before the parliament's foreign affairs and unification committee on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called Tokyo's measures "not comprehensible and unjustifiable."
"The government's conclusion on the measures is that it has a retaliatory nature," she said.
Asked by a lawmaker about the fate of a Seoul-Tokyo military intel-sharing pact in light of the deepening trade spat, Kang said the government intends to maintain the agreement, though it does not rule out other possibilities.
"The government is now monitoring various situations, and we intend to keep it for now. Depending on how the situation develops, we could consider reviewing it," she said.
President Moon Jae-in's national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, has reportedly told lawmakers that Seoul could review whether to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement, signed in 2016. The bilateral pact is supposed to be renewed every year, and the deadline for any objection by either side to its renewal for another year is Aug. 24.
The foreign ministry said it will continue to call for Tokyo to resolve the matter through diplomacy and also urge the neighboring country to withdraw all the measures against Seoul.
The ministry said it plans to deliver a message to Tokyo highlighting the unfairness of its move to exclude Seoul from the whitelist and expressing deep regret, if it approves the bill.
Kang also said her team is working to arrange separate bilateral talks with her US and Japanese counterparts -- Mike Pompeo and Taro Kono -- on the margins of the ASEAN Regional Forum to be held in Thailand later this week, and it is highly likely that the meetings will take place.
Diplomatic sources have predicted she and Kono could meet either on Thursday or Friday at the multilateral gathering, which, if it happens, will be the first one-on-one meeting by the two top diplomats, since Tokyo's export restrictions.
Also on Tuesday, the foreign ministry invited officials from foreign diplomatic missions in South Korea for a briefing to explain the trade spat with Tokyo and Seoul's stance on the issue.
In the briefing jointly held with the trade ministry, Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Yun Kang-hyeon stressed that Japan should withdraw the unilateral measures that jeopardize the multilateral trade system and global economy.
Yun also said that South Korea opposes any additional retaliatory measures and is ready to work with Japan for a diplomatic resolution and a future-oriented development of relations between the two countries, the ministry said in a release.
The foreign officials invited to the session were from member countries of four major international export control regimes, including the Wassenaar Arrangement, established to guard against proliferation of trade of goods that can be weaponized. (Yonhap)