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Japan-South Korea rift

Japan and South Korea ministers make no progress on export curbs row

Tokyo set to remove its neighbor from 'white list' as tensions rise

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, right, and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha, at an ASEAN meeting in Bangkok to discuss Japan's intended trade curbs.   © AP

BANGKOK -- Foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea met in Bangkok on Thursday to try to ease rising tensions, but failed to make progress toward resolving a trade dispute.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha demanded Japan withdraw export curbs on crucial chipmaking materials. She also warned her Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, that Seoul would review a bilateral intelligence-sharing pact if Japan removes South Korea from its "white list" of 27 countries that benefit from trade privileges.

But Kono insisted South Korea must comply with international law regarding a dispute over Japanese companies' use of wartime labor.

After the meeting, Kang said South Korea would have no choice but "to take necessary countermeasures" if Japan strips it of trade advantages.

The two ministers had not met since Japan restricted the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea last month. Their meeting was the first since they spoke briefly at the end of June on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka.

Thursday's talks were held on the sidelines of a regional forum on security, held by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Kang, at the beginning of her meeting with ASEAN foreign ministers, expressed South Korea's irritation with Japan. "I also share my fellow ministers' concerns on the recent developments relating to the trade tensions between major trading partners," she said, lumping the Japan-South Korean spat together with the U.S.-China trade war.

"We should enlarge the piece of pie that we are sharing through free flow of trade and commerce, and not adopt the beggar-thy-neighbor attitude and approach," she added.

Japan and South Korea discussed mostly the dispute over wartime labor and the subsequent export restrictions. However, they also confirmed they would continue to work closely together on North Korea.

The export restriction is seen by some as retaliation for a series of South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate Koreans for being forced to work for Japanese companies during Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Tokyo claims the issue was settled long ago.

Japan now wants to remove South Korea from its list of countries that enjoy preferential trade treatment. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to go ahead with the decision on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging the two countries to mend their relationship. "I had a couple of minutes with the Japanese foreign minister today," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. "We are very hopeful that those two countries will, together themselves, find a way forward to ease the tension that has risen." 

Both countries are collaborating on maintaining peace in the region, especially on the Korean Peninsula. A further worsening of relations risks derailing peacemaking efforts.

"They're both working closely with us on our effort to denuclearize North Korea," Pompeo said. "So if we can help them find a good place for each of the two countries, we'll certainly find that important for the United States."

Pompeo is expected to hold a meeting with Kono and Kang on Friday.

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