South Korea’s decision to reopen a World Trade Organization complaint about Japan’s tightening of export controls is “not helpful” to the process of resolving the nations’ differences, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told his South Korean counterpart on Wednesday.
In a 40-minute phone call with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Motegi reiterated that the move by Seoul was “extremely regrettable,” according to Japan’s Foreign Ministry.
The two also discussed the lifting of travel restrictions meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a ministry official.
On Tuesday, South Korea’s Trade, Industry and Energy Ministry said it was resurrecting the complaint because Japan had not shown willingness to settle the dispute bilaterally despite months of talks.
In July last year, Japan placed tougher restrictions on South Korea-bound exports of three key materials used to manufacture semiconductors and display panels.
The following month, Japan removed the country from a “whitelist” of countries given preferential trading status, citing concerns over Seoul’s lax rules on exporting sensitive goods.
South Korea filed the WTO complaint in September, arguing the measures were a form of political retaliation, but suspended it in November after the countries agreed to start consultations on export controls.
Kang voiced “deep regret” that Japan had not held up its end of the deal by easing its export controls despite South Korea having addressed all of Tokyo’s concerns, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.
Ties between the Asian neighbors have been on particularly rocky ground since South Korea’s top court made a series of decisions ordering compensation for people ruled to have been forced to work in Japanese factories during the 1910-1945 period of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Japan argues the issue of compensation was settled for good by a 1965 bilateral agreement and has criticized the seizure of Japanese companies’ assets in South Korea.
Motegi warned Kang that the assets should not be liquidated, as this would lead to a “serious situation,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said. The two agreed to continue communicating in the hope of resolving the dispute, it said.
According to the ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Kang said that the countries could begin easing travel restrictions on each other soon, beginning with business trips. But Motegi was not receptive to the suggestion, saying Japan was still focused on containing domestic cases of COVID-19.