Trade row talks held in tense atmosphere

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Trade row talks held in tense atmosphere


Top: Korean officials from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, right, sit across their Japanese counterparts at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s office in Tokyo on Friday. Right, top: A Hottracks display at Kyobo Bookstore’s branch in Pangyo, Gyeonggi, features pens with Korean flags to show they are manufactured by Korean companies. Right, bottom: Hanaro Mart in Chang-dong, Dobong District, northern Seoul, posts a notice saying it is no longer selling Japanese alcohol on Friday. [YONHAP, HOTTRACKS]

Seoul and Tokyo remained at odds over Japan’s restrictions of key industrial exports during their first official meeting on the dispute.

Trade officials from the two countries met in Tokyo Friday to discuss the export restrictions implemented last week that escalated a diplomatic row between the neighbors over court-ordered compensation for wartime forced laborers.

The Trade Ministry conducted a briefing on the result of the meeting but it did not take place as of press time.

Although a senior Korean Trade Ministry official had said a day earlier that Friday’s talks could lay the groundwork for a resolution, tensions remained heightened between the two countries as the talks began without any diplomatic courtesies - not even an exchange of handshakes.

The talks were drawn out from their original two-hour schedule. It took an hour for the Japanese officials to explain the grounds for its trade measures. They finally ended at 7:50 p.m. after nearly six hours.

Seoul had planned to ask Japanese officials the grounds for the export restrictions and also about allegations made by Tokyo that strategic materials from Japan ended up in North Korea via the South.

Seoul vehemently rejected that claim this week and called on Japan to halt such accusations.

Seoul has asserted that the trade measures are about politics and historical issues, and have nothing to do with trade technicalities or such national security issues as North Korean sanctions.

Prior to Friday’s meeting, Tokyo had pointed to deteriorated “trust” and an “occurrence of an inappropriate matter” to justify the export restrictions.

On Thursday, Japan characterized the meeting as a session to simply explain its trade measures to Korean officials, while Korea called it a bilateral discussion.

Apparently disapproving of Korea’s description, Tokyo scaled down the meeting to two representatives from each side. Originally five representatives from each side were supposed to attend.

The gulf between the two sides was clear as Japanese officials showed up in shirt sleeves while the Koreans were in full business dress. The venue for the meeting was a small barren office in a Trade Ministry building with a stack of folding chairs piled in a corner.

A whiteboard with two pieces of paper that read “an explanatory session of export management” stood in the room.

Seoul remained worried about the potential fallout from the trade spat.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Friday that a 6.7 trillion won ($5.7 billion) supplementary budget, being reviewed at the National Assembly could be increased by at least 120 billion won to support industries affected by the restrictions. The ruling Democratic Party suggested Thursday to raise the budget by 300 billion won.

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