South Korea calls on Japan to agree to talks to repair ties

South Korea's Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon said the South Korean government will proceed "without delay" to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organisation to remedy Japan's "unfair economic retaliation". PHOTO: AP

SEOUL (KYODO) - South Korea's prime minister on Wednesday (Aug 28) urged Japan to agree to talks to repair ties between the two countries, after Japan revoked South Korea's status as a preferential trading partner earlier in the day.

Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, speaking at a meeting with other government ministers, said the South Korean government will, at the same time, proceed "without delay" to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organisation to remedy Japan's "unfair economic retaliation".

Mr Lee's remarks came hours after the Japanese government took South Korea off a list of countries that enjoy minimum trade restrictions on goods such as electronic components that can be diverted for military use.

The move, coming after Tokyo last month implemented tighter controls on exports of some materials needed by South Korean manufacturers of semiconductors and display panels, is certain to add fuel to the spat between the neighbouring countries.

Japan has cited national security concerns for imposing the tougher export rules, which were announced in early July.

But the measures are widely seen as retaliation for top South Korean court rulings last year that ordered some Japanese companies to compensate the two Koreas over wartime forced labour.

At Tuesday's meeting, Mr Lee emphasised the need to hold talks between South Korea and Japan to prevent the situation from worsening, while pledging to prepare measures to strengthen the competitiveness of domestically produced parts and components.

To advance the latter measures, the South Korean government and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea decided at a meeting earlier Tuesday to allocate 5 trillion won (S$5.7 billion) in a budget over three years from next year.

The measures are aimed at stopping the South Korean industry's reliance on Japanese materials and components.

As ties between the two neighbours sank to their lowest point in decades, the South Korean presidential office said last week that the country is terminating a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan that helps the US allies counter missile threats from North Korea.

Mr Lee said on Monday that the decision to pull out of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, could be reconsidered if Japan cancels its trade measures by the time the accord ends in late November.

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