Talks on Japanese trade curbs go nowhere

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Talks on Japanese trade curbs go nowhere

Korean and Japanese officials discussed export controls initiated by Tokyo in July for the first time in three months.

But no progress was made during the video meeting, reflecting the extremely strained relations between the two neighbors.

According to the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, the video meeting lasted until early Wednesday morning and was the first since a face-to-face meeting among officials in Tokyo in mid-December. That was the first such trade consultation in three years.

The ministry said in a statement that both sides shared information and exchanged views on improving export controls and transfer of sensitive technologies that would contribute to solving the “current issue.”

The Korean government said the next meeting will be held in Seoul without giving a specific date.

The Korean government has been urging the Japanese government to roll back its export restrictions on three essential materials for manufacturing semiconductors and displays: photoresists, hydrogen fluoride and fluorine polyimide.

Last week, Korean Trade Minister Sung Yun-mo said Korea has met all of the demands of the Japanese government after the government passed a bill amending its Foreign Trade Act, which will lead to stricter screening of exports of commodities that can be used for conventional weapon development or weapons of mass destruction. It also increased the number of employees working on export controls by 25 percent.

“The [Korean] government has worked to create the conditions to resolve the problem as quickly as possible by removing the reasons for Japan’s export controls,” Sung said. “We have established enough trust through a sufficient amount of explanations, including legislative regulation, organization and personnel management in regards to Korea’s export control through the meetings in the last five months.”

Japan last year cited three reasons for toughening its export controls on Korea - damaged trust between the two countries resulting from not holding policy discussion for more than three years; a lack of Korean “catch-all” regulations that would limit exports of strategic commodities that could be converted into conventional weapons; a weakness in Korea’s export inspections and management systems including a shortfall in employees.

The lackluster response from Japan reflects heightened tensions between the two countries. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week announced a tightening of Japan’s border with Korea. Anyone traveling from Korea will be quarantined for 14 days, and Japan ended its visa waver program for Koreans. The Korean government responded in kind.

The move by Abe was considered to be an attempt to boost his popularity after a mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak. The Korean government has repeatedly expressed its discontent with the Japanese government’s actions.

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hoeong@joongang.co.kr]

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