Japan and South Korea held a teleconference Tuesday to discuss trade export controls placed on each other amid the diplomatic feud over wartime labor compensation.
The talks at the director general level were initially scheduled to take place in Seoul but had to be held remotely after the two governments implemented international travel restrictions in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Yoichi Iida, head of the trade control department at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, represented Japan. His counterpart was Lee Ho-hyun from South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
In their last meeting, in Tokyo in mid-December, the two said they had improved “mutual understanding” of their export controls, in a sign of easing bilateral tensions.
Details of Tuesday’s discussion were not immediately known, but South Korean officials were expected to urge Tokyo to remove control measures on some key export materials for South Korea.
Japanese officials, however, said the teleconference was not an opportunity to make any decision on the issue, according to a METI official.
Often troubled by differing views on wartime history, bilateral relations have sharply deteriorated since October 2018, when South Korea’s top court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
In July 2019, Japan placed stricter regulations on exports of materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels to South Korea, and the following month removed the country from its “whitelist” of preferred trading partners.
South Korea saw the moves as retribution for the court decision and quickly reciprocated, fanning concerns over the impact of the moves on both economies.
The diplomatic spat escalated when South Korea announced in August 2019 it would pull out of a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that helps them deal with missile threats from North Korea, though it later reversed the decision.