South Korea and Japan drop trade disputes as leaders search for common ground

TOKYO, March 16 (Reuters) – Japan and South Korea have agreed to drop a nearly four-year-old trade dispute over high-tech materials on Thursday, an emphatic sign they aim to rebuild and work together on a historically strained relationship. work against increasing safety hazards.

The announcement came during Yoon Suk Yeol’s visit to Japan on Thursday, the first for a South Korean president in 12 years, as the two neighbors looked for common ground in the face of frequent North Korean missile launches.

Japan will impose restrictions on exports to South Korea of ​​critical materials for smartphone screens and chips, while Seoul will drop a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against Tokyo, South Korea’s Commerce Ministry said.

Tokyo imposed curbs in 2019 as tensions over a decades-old feud with Seoul intensified. Thursday’s announcement is likely to be seen as a sign of Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s desire to form a united front against growing regional tensions and work together on supply chain issues. By doing so, they are trying to leave behind years of animosity sparked by the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945.

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The urgency of regional security and the threat posed by North Korea were underscored in the hours before Yoon’s arrival, when the North fired a long-range ballistic missile that landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Yoon has said he expects to “strengthen” security cooperation and the two leaders are preparing to confirm the resumption of a bilateral security dialogue that has been suspended since 2018, Japanese broadcaster NHK said.

Tokyo and Seoul are also expected to revive “shuttle diplomacy” of regular visits between the leaders, according to a Yomiuri daily report citing Japanese government sources.

Still, Japan remains cautious about immediate improvements in relations, with a Japanese government official requesting anonymity saying that “relationships between Japan and South Korea are improving, but it is still a step-by-step process”.

Yoon is also confronted with skepticism at home. In a Gallup Korea poll released Friday, 64% of respondents said there was no need to rush to improve ties with Japan if there was no change in Japan’s attitude, and 85% said they thought the current Japanese government made no apologies for Japan’s colonial history.

Despite the tension, economic ties are strong. The two were each other’s fourth-largest export markets by 2021, according to the IMF. Japanese exports to South Korea totaled $52 billion, while South Korean exports totaled $30 billion, the data showed.


As a reminder of long-standing tensions, two South Korean victims of wartime forced labor have filed a lawsuit seeking damages from Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), their representatives said Thursday.

Relations between the two countries are tense over the wartime labor issue and disputed islands, and Korean girls and women forced to work in wartime Japanese brothels made progress last week when Seoul announced a plan for its companies to release former forced laborers. compensate. The victims who filed the lawsuit reject that plan.

Kishida welcomed the labor compensation movement and expressed hope to “strengthen relations” with Yoon’s visit.

Japan’s largest business lobby, Keidanren, said it and its South Korean counterpart, the Federation of Korean Industries, have agreed to establish foundations aimed at “forward-looking” bilateral relations.

Park Hong-keun, floor leader of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party, said Yoon’s visit should not stop at “his trip down memory lane” and asked Yoon for a genuine apology and resolution from Japan during his trip earn on forced labour.

The two leaders also met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia in November.

South Korea and Japan agreed at the time to exchange real-time information about North Korea’s missile launches, which experts say will help both countries better detect potential threats.

Japan said China’s “strategic challenge is the biggest Japan has ever faced” in a defense strategy paper released in December. Tokyo worries that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set a precedent that will encourage China to attack self-governed Taiwan.

China’s coast guard entered the waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea on Wednesday to counter the alleged incursion of Japanese ships into Chinese territorial waters.

Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo, Josh Smith and Ju-min Park in Seoul; Edited by David Dolan and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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