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Japan remains mum on S. Korea's request for talks on fisheries pact

Japan has spurned South Korea's request to hold talks to work out differences for the renewal of their fisheries agreement, a South Korean official said Friday.

   South Korea sent a letter to Japan in May calling for working-level talks. Last month, Japan replied to South Korea, though it did not mention the proposed talks, according to Park Sung-jun, a director handling the issue at the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.

   The two neighbors last held face-to-face talks in June last year, though they failed to renew their fisheries agreement that expired in June 2016.

Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe. Yonhap
Japanese Prime Minister Sinzo Abe. Yonhap

   A key issue is Japan's request that South Korea reduce the number of South Korean long-liners that can catch cutlassfish in Japan's exclusive economic zones by 133 from the current 206, a demand rejected by South Korea.

   South Korea said Japan violated their 2015 deal, in which South Korea agreed to cut the number of its long-liners by 40 by 2019 from 206.

   Seoul said it cannot accept Japan's changed position due to the strong opposition of South Korean fishermen.

   The development comes as bilateral relations plunged to their lowest levels in recent decades over a trade row stemming from Japan's wartime use of Koreans as forced labor during its 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

   Japan has imposed tighter regulations on exports to South Korea of three materials -- resist, etching gas and fluorinated polyimide

-- that are critical for the production of semiconductors and flexible displays.

   Japan also removed South Korea from its "whitelist" of trusted trading partners in retaliation against last year's South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor.

   On Wednesday, South Korea filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization over Japan's export curbs, upping the stakes in the unprecedented trade row between the two Asian neighbors.

   South Korea and Japan are close economic partners and key allies of the United States, though they have long been in conflict over territory and other historical disputes.