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Korea-Japan business meeting delayed

Diplomatic tensions affect conference held since 1969

Mar 12,2019
An annual conference between Korean and Japanese business leaders planned for mid-May in Seoul has been postponed until after September amid souring ties.

The Korea Japan Economic Association, led by Kim Yoon, the chairman and CEO of Samyang Holdings, announced last week that this year’s meeting, which was supposed to be held from May 13 to 15 at Lotte Hotel Seoul, will be held sometime after September. The association said in a statement that Korean-Japanese relations were facing “a big predicament” lately due to “several issues of conflict,” and that, in light of that, the association and its Japanese counterpart agreed to defer the event.

Despite the postponement, the association vowed to continue facilitating cooperation between both countries’ business sectors.

The conference for Korean and Japanese CEOs has been held every year since 1969, with each country taking turns hosting the event. Vice presidents of the Korea Japan Economic Association include Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Hanjin Group; Park Sam-koo, chairman of Kumho Asiana Group; and Choi Jeong-woo, chairman of Posco.

Last year’s gathering, the 50th, was held in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who met with a group of South Korean businessmen visiting Tokyo for the meeting, greeted them in Korean, saying, “Annyeonghaseyo” (hello). Abe noted that Korea and Japan were able to build a strong bond even during times when bilateral relations were strained because the business meeting has been held every year nonetheless.

That could change this year if Korea and Japan fail to resolve their disputes.

One source in the local business community said on the condition of anonymity that both countries would have felt uncomfortable holding the meeting when they were clashing on the diplomatic front. Despite the fact it is principally a conference between businessmen, politicians and high-level government officials often also attend.

When the meeting was hosted by Korea in 2017, Paik Un-gyu - who at the time served as minister of industry, trade and energy - delivered congratulatory remarks.

Korea-Japan relations have been reaching new lows lately, ever since Korea’s Supreme Court ruled last October and November that two Japanese companies - Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - should compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule over Korea in the early 20th century. Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral ties with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

Last December, Tokyo accused a Korean destroyer of locking its fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane. Seoul refuted the claim, saying the Japanese plane provoked the Korean ship by flying at a low altitude nearby.

BY KANG KI-HEON [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]


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