USA seeks to mediate between Japan, S. Korea over export row

Clay Curtis
July 13, 2019

The call was the latest twist in a dispute between the United States allies that could disrupt supplies of chips and displays from South Korean tech giants Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, which count Apple and other smartphone makers as customers. It comes amid deep frustration in Japan over what Tokyo sees as Seoul's failure to act in response to a South Korean court ruling ordering a Japanese company to compensate former forced laborers from the Second World War.

That's according to Lee Ho-hyeon, a South Korean trade ministry official who briefed reporters on Friday after export officials from the two countries met in Tokyo for almost six hours over the bitter trade dispute.

South Korea's trade ministry announced this week the country's authorities had unearthed 156 incidents of sensitive materials that can be used for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction being illegally diverted to unauthorized countries between 2015 and March 2019.

On Thursday, during a visit to Washington, Kim Hyun-chong, deputy chief of the presidential National Security Office, told reporters that the USA has offered trilateral high-level talks with South Korea and Japan to address the trade tensions.

The official also said there had been some "inappropriate" cases involving Japanese exports to South Korea, but they did not involve shipments to a third country such as North Korea.

If a probe found any wrongdoing by Seoul, it would apologize and take corrective measures immediately, he said.

"We, on our part, have no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in south Korea.", KCNA news agency reported, citing a government researcher.

"In the meeting with President Trump in Osaka, President Xi briefed him on China's principled position on the peninsula issue, and pushed the USA side to show flexibility and meet the North Koreans half way, including easing sanctions in due course", Geng said.

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Japanese trade ministry officials said the objective of Friday's meeting was to explain that the restrictions are a precautionary measure necessitated by South Korea's lax trade controls.

A South Korean official said on Saturday that the delegation told the Japanese side it could neither understand nor accept Tokyo's claims.

One reason for the sensitivity over characterizing the talks could be a Japanese fear that if Korea can assert that it used consultations and unsuccessfully sought to have Tokyo withdraw the curbs, Seoul could justify escalating the matter to the World Trade Organization.

The official said he and his colleague asked to start negotiations for the removal of the measures, but the Japanese refused.

The official said the government was not linking the two issues and that "logically speaking" the more stringent controls could be removed if South Korea addressed Japan's concerns about its export control system.

Relations between the American allies have always been strained over issues related to Tokyo's brutal 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Japan says the matter was settled by the 1965 treaty and by demanding compensation, South Korea is violating global law.

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