More acrimony in Japan-South Korea row as Tokyo lodges protest

Working level officials from Japan and South Korea hold a meeting about Japan's recent restrictions on exports of high-tech material to South Korea in Tokyo
Working level officials from Japan (L) and South Korea hold a meeting about Japan’s recent restrictions on exports of high-tech material to South Korea in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2019. Japan Pool/Pool via REUTERS

July 13, 2019

By Kiyoshi Takenaka

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea traded further acrimony on Saturday, with Tokyo accusing Seoul of mischaracterizing talks the day before that did not mend a dispute that could threaten global supplies of microchips and smartphone displays.

Tokyo lodged a protest against Seoul, said it had broken an agreement on what the two sides would disclose from the Friday discussions on Japan’s curbs of exports to Korea of some materials used to make high-tech equipment, said a Japanese trade ministry official.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) also disputed a reported remark by a Korean official, saying in a statement that South Korea had not asked Japan on Friday to withdraw the restrictions.

Japan has tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in high-tech equipment, officially citing what it has called “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea, as well as a lack of consultations about export controls.

But the dispute also appears to be rooted in a decades-old wartime disagreement. It comes amid deep frustration in Japan over what is seen as Seoul’s failure to act in response to a South Korean court ruling ordering a Japanese company to compensate former forced laborers.

A Korean official, as he was leaving Japan on Saturday, said the Korean side had asked Japan to withdraw the export curbs in the Friday talks, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported, without naming the official.

In response, Jun Iwamatsu, director of METI’s trade control policy division, told a hastily arranged news conference: “We’ve checked the record of the meeting … We found no clear comment asking for the withdrawal.”

Iwamatsu said the two sides had agreed on what they would disclose from the talks but that the Korean official went beyond the agreement. “We believe this is something that affects our relationship of trust,” he said.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard and Jacqueline Wong)

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