THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
March 24, 2023 at 12:25 JST
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida shakes hands with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at the end of their joint news conference on March 16. (Koichi Ueda)
Japan and South Korea almost simultaneously dropped their export claims against each other on Thursday in the latest sign of improving ties.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced that effective Thursday the country would lift export controls of three key semi-conductor-related materials imposed in 2019 against South Korea, while Seoul said it would drop its complaint with the World Trade Organization over the issue.
The two sides agreed to the plan as part of their recent effort to improve ties and the announcement came a week after their leaders agreed to work past their troubled history and mend ties so they can better respond together to growing regional threats.
The announcement came hours after South Korea’s unification minister and senior Japanese government officials reaffirmed their close cooperation in response to North Korea’s escalating missile threats at a rare meeting.
Kwon Youngse is in Tokyo for talks with Japanese ministers and top governing party officials, becoming the first unification minister to do so in 18 years. His trip comes on the heels of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last week, when they agreed to resume regular visits and launch high-level talks on security, trade and other issues.
Kwon and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi agreed that North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile firings, which have occurred at an unprecedented pace, are a “serious and pressing threat to regional security and a clear and grave challenge to international society,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement.
The two ministers confirmed their close cooperation in response to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the ministry said.
At the outset of the talks, Hayashi said last week’s summit was “a great success” and praised Yoon’s leadership toward improving bilateral relations. Hayashi also said he was “delighted to meet with Minister Kwon without delay.”
Kwon, in response, said the process of improving ties has just begun and that he believes further efforts by the two governments can help bolster their healthy relations.
He said North Korea’s nuclear and human rights issues represent a problem not only for South Korea but also for the international community. He said it is also necessary for his country to strengthen ties with Japan to tackle those issues.
South Korea and Japan have deep economic and cultural ties and are both key U.S. allies. But their relations have often faltered due to disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
After long negotiations with Japan, the South Korean government earlier this month announced plans to use local funds to resolve a compensation dispute over wartime Korean forced labor, leading to the first full summit between the two countries’ leaders in 12 years.
The latest row started in late 2018, spilling over to defense and trade ties between the two sides.
In 2019, Japan’s government tightened export controls on three materials to South Korea--fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and resists--key materials used in the production of semiconductors. The two countries are also discussing restoring each other’s trade status.
The South Korean trade ministry also said it plans to revise government export regulations to restore Japan’s status as a favored trade destination for the export of “strategic” materials that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
The South Korean ministry said it will continue to engage in broader talks with its Japanese counterparts to discuss both countries restoring their “whitelists” of nations enjoying minimum trade restrictions, after Tokyo and Seoul downgraded each other’s trade status during the 2019 dispute.
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