Business

Japan denies floating one-month time frame for ending South Korea export controls

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

The trade ministry Tuesday rebutted a media report that it told South Korea it would take one month to retract its tightened export control measures as part of a deal to keep a key intelligence-sharing pact intact.

“There’s no such fact,” a senior official in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said of a Yonhap news agency report late Monday that Japan raised a specific time frame for removing enhanced screening measures put in place in July.

Citing unnamed sources, the Yonhap report said the Japanese offer “apparently” induced South Korea to stick to the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). South Korea announced Friday evening it was opting, hours before its expiration, not to rescind the bilateral agreement to exchange sensitive information primarily on missile threats from North Korea.

The denial marks the latest tit-for-tat between Tokyo and Seoul following years of bickering and finger-pointing amid sour bilateral relations, aggravated by a series of beefed-up export controls toward South Korea.

Yoichi Iida, director general of the trade control department at METI, told reporters Friday evening shortly after the GSOMIA announcement that it would resume talks between export control officials of the two countries that have not taken place in more than three years.

When the dialogue will take place has not been determined, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday morning during a regular news conference.

Japan agreed to resume working-level talks after it said South Korea suspended, at least temporarily, bilateral consultations in the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement process, which Tokyo saw as a sign of progress.

The Japanese government has said there is no connection between the resumption of the bilateral working-level talks and the fate of the GSOMIA.

Experts suggest the reported one-month time frame may have been taken out of context.

“This is a potentially dangerous rumor,” tweeted James Schoff, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “I think more accurately, the explanation was that IF Seoul made changes to accommodate Japan’s requests (to bolster confidence in handling strategic goods), THEN the path to white list return would be a month or so.”

Even after Friday’s development, the two sides have continuously been at odds. South Korea accused Japan of willingly distorting the details of its decision to keep the GSOMIA alive, an allegation that Japan has denied, according to Kyodo.

Jiji Press reported that a METI official on Monday laid out three conditions to reinstate South Korea’s favored trade status during a ruling party meeting: continued bilateral talks, trade control system reinforcement and introduction of legislation to prevent exported materials being diverted to make conventional weapons.

Starting in July, METI has ramped up inspections on three chemicals used in semiconductor manufacturing. The goods subjected to enhanced screening were widened a month later to include a diverse range of materials that could be used to make weapons.

Japan justified the move by citing what it characterizes as an erosion of trust with South Korea stemming from historical issues as well as inappropriate handling of some materials.

South Korea downgraded Japan’s trade status in retaliation and accused Tokyo of deliberately crippling its economy for political purposes.