The top envoys of South Korea and Japan will hold bilateral talks and a three-way meeting with the US in Bangkok this week as the East Asian neighbors struggle to resolve a diplomatic row heightened by trade restrictions imposed by Tokyo, amid concerns that the measures could hurt global semiconductor chip supply chains.
Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa will meet Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Thursday on the sidelines of gatherings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok, including the ASEAN Regional Forum, slated to take place Thursday to Saturday.
This marks the first face-to-face meeting between the two ministers since Tokyo implemented the export restrictions July 4.
A three-way meeting among representatives of Seoul, Tokyo and Washington is also expected to take place there.
This year’s annual meetings of ASEAN foreign ministers are drawing extra attention here, as they could offer a venue for Korea to directly discuss major pending issues with other concerned countries. One such issue is Japan’s tightened controls on exports of semiconductor materials to Korea, widely seen as a retaliatory response after Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay damages to victims of Korean forced labor during the Japanese colonial period.
“We need to clearly point out that these restrictive measures are unfair and let not only Japan but also the many foreign ministers attending the ARF and the international community know that these measures must be stopped,” Kang told reporters at Incheon Airport on Wednesday.
Korea’s deteriorating ties with Japan over differing views on history were highlighted by Tokyo’s July 4 export control measures, which require Japanese companies to win case-by-case approval to export to Korea three materials used to make semiconductors and displays used in smartphones and other high-tech devices.
Semiconductors make up more than 20 percent of Korea’s exports, with its chipmakers such as Samsung Electronics and SK hynix supplying 61 percent of components used in memory chips globally in 2018.
Adding even more pressure, Japan is expected to make a Cabinet decision to drop Korea from its list of 27 trusted trade partners that receive preferential treatment, as early as Friday.
Seoul renewed calls for Tokyo to retract the export restrictions, vowing a stern response otherwise.
After holding an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, Cheong Wa Dae said the members of the standing committee had decided that “if Japan does not withdraw such measures or even aggravates the situation despite all our efforts, the government will respond sternly with all means possible.”
With no immediate solution emerging, Washington appears to have decided to step in, despite initial reluctance, to act as a go-between for Seoul and Tokyo, its key allies in the region and anchors of the US security system in Northeast Asia.
En route to Bangkok on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would encourage the two Asian allies “to find a path forward.”
“They’re both great partners of ours. They’re both working closely with us on our effort to denuclearize North Korea. So if we can help them find a good place for each of the two countries we’ll certainly find that important for the United States.” Pompeo said.
The US also suggested Korea and Japan consider signing a “standstill agreement” to buy time to negotiate, according to a report by Reuters that cited a senior US official.
In response to the report, a Cheong Wa Dae official said the agreement could be considered a way of “preserving the status quo” in terms of of the two countries’ diplomatic situation, not a “suspension of disputes” as described by some media reports here.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said there had been no such suggestion by the US.
He said Tokyo will make efforts to gain “correct understanding” with close cooperation with the US.
The deepening diplomatic row raised US concerns as Korea said it would consider scrapping a bilateral military information pact with Japan if Tokyo goes ahead with the additional export control measures. Washington wants the two allies to maintain the deal, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, as it affects US security interests in the region.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org