TOKYO (AP) — Japan and South Korea have agreed on steps to resolve a trade dispute that has been one of the tensions the nations’ leaders sought to resolve at a highly anticipated summit Thursday.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol meet in Tokyo later today in a bid to overcome disputes over history and quickly restore security and economic ties between their nations. A North Korean missile launch and encounters between Japanese and Chinese ships in disputed waters earlier Thursday show what’s at stake for the two countries.
South Korea’s Commerce Minister Lee Chang-yang said after talks this week that Japan agreed to lift export controls on South Korea, and will withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization once the curbs are removed.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that during the talks, Japan recognized the improvement in South Korea’s export controls and that, as a result of Seoul’s decision to drop the WTO case, Japan decided to lift restrictions against South Korea Korea and return the country to the status it had before July 2019.
Lee’s ministry said the countries will continue to talk about restoring each other to preferred trade status after downgrading each other in 2019.
Japanese export controls covered fluorinated polyimides, which are used in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays for TVs and smartphones, and photoresist and hydrogen fluoride, which are used to make semiconductors.
The two countries, which have often been at odds over their histories, are trying to form a united front with their mutual ally, the US, driven by shared concerns about a troubled North Korea and a more powerful China. Their apex comes as a series of dramatic events that underlines how Northeast Asia divides into blocs.
NORTH KOREA WELCOMES MISSILE TEST TOP
A North Korean missile launch early Thursday, just before Yoon left for Tokyo, could boost momentum for him and Kishida to bring their countries closer diplomatically. The intercontinental ballistic missile was launched on a steep trajectory to avoid land and fell into open water off Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.
The test comes after a year in which North Korea has escalated its nuclear threatsand is likely intended to send a message about both the summit and simultaneous joint military exercises, including the US, which the isolated nation views as targeting it.
“Peace and stability in the region are important to the region and we must further strengthen cooperation between allies and like-minded countries,” Kishida said, referring to the missile launch.
Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said Japan will reaffirm cooperation with Seoul and Washington at the summit in response to North Korea’s missile threats.
Yoon, in a written response Wednesday to questions from foreign media including The Associated Press, said strained relations between Korea and Japan should be mended as soon as possible. “I believe we must break the vicious circle of mutual hostility and work together to pursue the common interests of our two countries.”
REGION IN FLUX AS WASHINGTON, BEIJING STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE
Washington will welcome better ties between Japan and South Korea as quarreling over historic issues has undermined a US effort to strengthen its alliances in Asia to better deal with North Korean nuclear threats and the rise of China.
China’s dispute with Japan over small islands in the East China Sea flared up Thursday, with both sides accusing each other of violating their maritime territory after China’s Coast Guard ships entered waters around an uninhabited group of islands Japan controls and dubs the Senkakus , and which Beijing claims and also calls the Diaoyu Islands. The islands are just north of Taiwan, which also claims them as its own.
The summit also follows a series of Chinese diplomatic successes in regions traditionally seen as more US-influenced. Honduras announced on Wednesday that it would end diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. in favor of China, a sign of progress in Beijing’s efforts to isolate the autonomously governed island, while Saudi Arabia and Iran announced a surprise deal last week to renew diplomatic relations between China and China.
The US is also making efforts to strengthen regional alliances. Washington apparently worked to bring about today’s summit, and on Thursday joint anti-submarine warfare exercises began with South Korea and Japan, as well as Canada and India.
SOUTH KOREA OFFERS CONCESSIONS IN AN ATTEMPT TO MOVE PAST HISTORY
The focus of attention at the two nations’ first summit in Japan since 2011 is how Kishida is responding to Yoon’s plan for the fund, a major concession from Seoul, and if and when they can continue defense dialogues and leaders’ regular visits. to resume.
Kishida and Yoon will have dinner together after the summit and have informal conversations afterwards, Kishida’s office said. According to media reports, Kishida will host a two-piece dinner: “sukiyaki” beef stew for a first round, then “omu rice” or rice topped with omelette — reportedly Yoon’s favorite dish — at another restaurant.
Japan and South Korea have long had disputes over Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and over atrocities during World War II, including forced prostitution of “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers, and territorial disputes over a cluster of islands.
Ties fell apart after the Supreme Court of South Korea in 2018 ordered two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate some of their former Korean employees for forced labor during World War II.
Japan has insisted that all compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties and accompanied $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul.
The conflicts of history spilled over into trade and defense. The two countries agreed to negotiate to restore their trade relations to the status quo before Japan imposed restrictions in 2019.
On Thursday, a powerful Japanese business lobby, Keidanren, or the Japan Business Federation, announced that it and its South Korean counterpart have agreed to set up some private funds for bilateral projects such as youth exchanges.
A dozen corporate executives traveling with Yoon will meet their Japanese counterparts on Friday.
Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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