Japan, S. Korea lawmakers meet to ease row over trade, history

Mari Yamaguchi

Tokyo – Lawmakers from Japan and South Korea met Wednesday in a bid to ease their countries’ worsening dispute over trade and history, but after hugs and smiles at the beginning, they ended up repeating their demands to each other.

The South Korean side urged Japan not to downgrade their country from a preferred status with simplified export procedures. The delegation, headed by Suh Chung-won, called the measure “unjust” and demanded Japan withdraw the plan. Japan’s Cabinet is to approve the measure Friday.

Japanese lawmaker Fukushiro Nukaga, second left, and South Korean counterpart Suh Chung-won, second from right, shake hands at a hotel during a meeting in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 31, 2019.

Tokyo’s removal of South Korea from its so-called “white country” list, which takes effect 21 days after the Cabinet’s approval, would mean that requirement will apply to dozens of more products on a list of items that potentially could be converted to weapons.

The step will be added to measures already in place. As of July 4, Japanese companies need case-by-case approvals to export to South Korea three materials used to make semiconductors and displays for smartphones and other high-tech devices.

Japan says the measure is needed to prevent misuse of sensitive materials and that Seoul has undermined Tokyo’s trust, including export controls.

“Amid threat of nuclear weapons development and terrorist attacks, we must carry out our export controls properly,” said Fukushiro Nukaga, a ruling party lawmaker who headed the Japanese parliamentarian’s group.

The Japanese side repeated its demands that Seoul not force Japanese companies to compensate wartime Korean laborers by violating the 1965 bilateral treaty that settled wartime compensation issues. Following the South Korean Supreme Court ruling, three Japanese companies’ assets held in that country are now frozen to be cashed out and paid to the plaintiffs.

The wartime labor issue is a much bigger headache for Japan than the export flap because more than a dozen other similar lawsuits are pending, involving nearly 70 Japanese companies, and their damages could be huge.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry recently released a copy of official documents from negotiations ahead of the 1965 treaty, showing South Korean officials declining to accept Japan’s offer for individual compensation to the laborers before signing the agreement with mutual consent that Japan’s $500 million in grants and loans had covered payments for the laborers.

Nukaga told reporters that the Japanese lawmakers told their South Korean counterparts that it’s their domestic problem and their government should resolve the problem on its own. South Korean lawmakers said they plan to seek a way to resolve the Korean laborers’ issue at an upcoming national assembly, Nukaga said.

South Korea has proposed that Japan set up a joint fund for the laborers, which Tokyo has rejected.