South Korea, Japan ministers' talks fail to ease trade, political row

The meeting between South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono failed to ease tensions and instead resulted in Dr Kang warning that Seoul could retaliate if Tokyo proceeded to remove her country from a "white
The meeting between South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono failed to ease tensions and instead resulted in Dr Kang warning that Seoul could retaliate if Tokyo proceeded to remove her country from a "white list" subject to minimum trade restrictions, according to Reuters.PHOTO: REUTERS

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha met Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono yesterday on the sidelines of the Asean meetings in Bangkok amid a growing trade and political row between the two countries.

But the meeting failed to ease tensions and instead resulted in Dr Kang warning that Seoul could retaliate if Tokyo proceeded today to remove her country from a "white list" subject to minimum trade restrictions, according to Reuters.

Dr Kang told reporters after the bilateral meeting in Bangkok: "As Japan cited security reasons for its trade restrictions, I said we will have no option but to review the various frameworks of security cooperation with Japan if the Cabinet decision comes tomorrow."

South Korea's Supreme Court last year ordered two Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labour during World War II. Japan has protested, arguing the issue of compensation had been settled five decades ago.

Early last month, Japan restricted the export to South Korea of materials used for making semi-conductors, citing doubts over Seoul's ability to control the re-export of items that could be converted to weapons.

Seoul has cast Tokyo's decision as retaliation for its court ruling on forced labour.

During yesterday's hour-long meeting, Mr Kono asked Dr Kang "to rectify the situation which is in violation of international law", said the Japanese Foreign Ministry's deputy press secretary, Mr Jun Saito.

"They had a very candid exchange of information," he added.

The two countries host important bases for United States troops in the region. A spiralling row could unravel an intelligence-sharing arrangement they have with the US aimed at countering nuclear-armed North Korea's missile threats.

Denuclearisation talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un collapsed in February in Hanoi, but hopes that they would be revived grew after Mr Trump stepped briefly into North Korea in June via the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas.

Yet, Pyongyang test-fired two missiles last week and again this week, likely as a warning against US and South Korean military exercises.

Both Dr Kang and Mr Kono are due to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo together today in another attempt to bring down temperatures.

"We're very hopeful that those two countries will together themselves find a path forward, a way to ease the tension that has resumed over the past 10 weeks," Mr Pompeo said yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2019, with the headline 'S. Korea, Japan ministers' talks fail to ease trade, political row'. Print Edition | Subscribe