• Kyodo

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Japan and South Korea have agreed to continue discussions over export controls after trade officials wrapped up marathon discussions early Wednesday.

“We exchanged information and welcomed the progress each side has made,” said Yoichi Iida, head of the trade control department at Japan’s trade ministry. “But we agreed we are still only halfway there.”

The director general-level meeting had initially been slated to take place in Seoul but was instead done by teleconference after the neighboring countries placed travel restrictions on each other to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Iida visited the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo to speak with his counterpart, Lee Ho-hyun, who was in Seoul. The meeting, which began Tuesday morning and had been slated to last seven hours, ultimately continued for nearly 16 hours, suggesting discussions were fraught with neither side willing to back down.

Often strained by differing views on wartime history, bilateral relations have worsened especially since October 2018, when South Korea’s top court ordered a Japanese steel-maker to compensate people it said were forced to work during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

In July 2019, Japan placed stricter regulations on exports to South Korea of materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels, and the following month removed the country from a “whitelist” of trusted trade partners, citing inadequacies in export controls.

South Korea saw the moves as retribution for the court decision and quickly reciprocated with similar measures. It also raised the stakes by announcing it would pull out of a military intelligence-sharing pact that helps the two countries deal with missile threats from North Korea.

That decision was suspended at the last minute after the U.S. allies agreed to hold discussions to address each other’s concerns over the export controls.

Iida and Lee met in mid-December in Tokyo in the first round of talks. Iida told a press briefing that they had agreed to meet next in South Korea at a date to be decided.

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