Japan, South Korea improve "mutual understanding" on export controls
TOKYO, Kyodo - Japan and South Korea said Monday they improved the "mutual understanding" of their export control systems in talks between senior officials in Tokyo, with signs pointing to an easing of tensions following a months-long diplomatic standoff.
The officials agreed to hold the next round in Seoul at an early date, according to the two countries. The director general-level meeting was the first such dialogue since June 2016, coming ahead of a planned summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Moon Jae In next week in China.
"I think it's a sign of progress," Japanese trade minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told reporters. "They also were in agreement on the need for effective export controls in the current security environment."
Still, Japanese officials said nothing has been decided on whether to retract Tokyo's decision in July to place stricter regulations on exporting some materials needed to manufacture semiconductors and display panels to South Korea, dealing a blow to its world-leading tech industry.
Japan also removed South Korea from a "white list" of trusted trade partners, citing concerns over Seoul's lax checks on exports of goods that can be diverted to military use.
South Korea has demanded the measures be removed, arguing they are retaliation for rulings last year by its top court ordering Japanese companies to compensate people it found were forced into labor during the 1910-1945 period of colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula.
But Japan's lead representative in Monday's talks, Yoichi Iida, head of the trade control department at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said there were still areas that the countries did not see eye to eye on.
"I wouldn't say we have cleared all of the issues," Iida said, while declining to say what specific points of contention remained with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Ho Hyun.
The talks had been scheduled for seven hours but ended up continuing for 10 as the officials discussed a "wide range of topics," he said.
Until recently, relations had deteriorated to the worst point in years. South Korea announced in August it will terminate a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact.
But the decision drew pushback from the countries' mutual ally the United States, with Washington concerned about a deterioration in their trilateral security arrangements at a time when North Korea remains a missile threat.
On Nov. 22, hours before the military pact was due to expire, South Korea suspended its termination and withdrew a complaint it had filed with the World Trade Organization against Japan's export controls.
The countries agreed to restart the trade talks that had been stalled for three and a half years, with both countries expressing cautious optimism that they will pave the way for a thaw in relations.
In a brief meeting in Madrid on Sunday, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his counterpart Kang Kyung Wha both said they look forward to the talks yielding good results, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry. (Kyodo)