South Korea and Japan started high-level talks in Tokyo on Monday as the first step to seek a breakthrough in settling their monthslong trade row that undermines bilateral economic ties and potentially disturbs international supply chains.
The meeting marks the first of its kind since June 2016 and is crucial for dealing with their trade conflict. It is also the first official gathering of trade officials between the two Asian neighbors after Seoul conditionally suspended the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan last month as a gesture to settle the trade row.
At the director-general level meeting, South Korea and Japan plan to discuss a variety of issues related to each other's export control systems, including regulations of sensitive technologies, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have been facing a deadlock since Japan imposed restrictions on exporting three key industrial materials critical for South Korea's chip and display industries in July. Japan later removed Seoul from its list of trusted trading partners.
Seoul wants Tokyo to put the neighboring country back on the so-called whitelist, but Japan said the issue should be handled separately.
Tokyo cited South Korea's alleged lax export control system for sensitive materials that can be diverted for military use as the ostensible reason behind its export restrictions but did not provide clear evidence behind the allegations.
Seoul regards a series of measures as retaliation against the country's Supreme Court ruling that ordered compensation for Koreans forced into labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
While Monday's meeting is not expected to immediately settle the monthslong dispute, Seoul eventually aims to induce Tokyo to fully lift all export curbs and other export regulations against Asia's No. 4 economy.
Tokyo currently insists that its own policies are not up for negotiations with other countries and that related decisions will be made after looking deeper into South Korea's export control system.
In a separate event, top diplomats of South Korea and Japan held one-on-one talks on the sidelines of a multilateral meeting in Spain on Sunday (Spain time) and discussed key issues related to the trade dispute.
During the 10-minute talks, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told her Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, that she hopes the talks over the trade row will lead to Japan retracting the export restrictions.
Monday's meeting also came ahead of the two countries' possible summit slated for later this month.
President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are set to hold a three-way summit in Chengdu on Dec. 24 to discuss cooperation on a range of issues that will likely include peace efforts with North Korea.
South Korea and Japan could possibly hold a separate bilateral summit focusing on the issues regarding trade and their shared history. (Yonhap)