In mid-December last year, a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry secretly visited Seoul. Out of concern over the handling by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense of a possible crisis in the Korean Peninsula, METI sent the official to Seoul to visit Japanese firms there and advise them to prepare to “evacuate as early as possible.” Irritation is growing within METI over insufficient preparations by MOFA and the MOD to protect and evacuate Japanese nationals in South Korea.
Since around April of last year when the tension over a possible military clash between the U.S. and North Korea appeared to have reached a peak, MOFA approached the South Korean government to discuss ways to protect Japanese nationals. It sounded out the South Korean side on the possibility of letting Japanese nationals use shelter facilities in Seoul. But Seoul was not at liberty to discuss the matter due to lingering instability in domestic politics there.
The Defense Ministry and the Self-Defense Forces have explained that “the U.S. military has promised to notify Japan when it issues an evacuation order to U.S. citizens in South Korea in the event that it uses force,” stressing that Japanese nationals would not be left unassisted. But the METI official complains that “they have not taken into account the fact that there are one million Chinese in South Korea in addition to 40,000 U.S. citizens and 60,000 Japanese nationals,” and argues that commercial planes and vessels would be full of Chinese evacuees and there would no room left for Japanese people. METI is advising Japanese firms to send the families of their expatriates in South Korea back to Japan as soon as possible probably because it is not satisfied with MOFA’s and MOD’s handling of the matter.