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Japan-South Korea rift

South Korea reviews export screening in nod to Japan

Trade feud shows signs of easing with negotiations back on track

Containers at the Busan New Port: Japan has concerns that its materials exports to South Korea are being leaked to countries like North Korea, where they are being used for military purposes.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea is expanding its screening team for strategic exports by 50% to 45 members on Jan. 1, in response to Japanese concerns that chipmaking chemicals shipped to the country were being leaked for military use.

The move represents an olive branch in the countries' trade spat, which began when Japan imposed tougher controls on South Korea-bound shipments of chemicals vital to semiconductor production in July. The countries has since taken each other off their whitelist of trusted trade partners.

Japan has set three conditions for reinstating South Korea to the whitelist: a restart of policy discussions, greater South Korean oversight on trade, and better South Korean controls on exports of products and materials with military uses.

Though Japan and South Korea remain divided over the third condition, they are making inroads on the first two. They have agreed to hold a senior-level meeting on trade from Dec. 16 to 20 in Tokyo. The two sides will hold preparatory talks in Australia on Wednesday.

"We will provide a detailed account on what we are doing regarding the conditions," a South Korean trade official said. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are slated to meet in China late next month.

The countries will discuss ways to alleviate bilateral concerns at the talks. Recent developments could point to a thawing in the countries' ties, which had been worsening every since an October 2018 ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court, which ordered a Japanese company to compensate those forced to work for it during World War II.

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