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Published: 12:47, March 16, 2023 | Updated: 18:29, March 16, 2023
ROK, Japan to drop trade row as security concerns trump history
By Agencies
Published:12:47, March 16, 2023 Updated:18:29, March 16, 2023 By Agencies

The Republic of Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (right) shake hands, ahead of their bilateral meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, in Tokyo, Japan, on March 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

TOKYO/SEOUL - Japan and the Republic of Korea agreed to drop an almost four-year-old trade dispute on high-tech materials on Thursday, during ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol's visit to Japan, the first for an ROK president in 12 years.

The announcement came as an emphatic sign the countries aim to rebuild a relationship strained by history and deepen security cooperation, with the two neighbors seeking common ground in the face of missile launches by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Japan will remove curbs on its exports to the ROK of critical materials for smartphone displays and chips while Seoul will drop a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against Tokyo, officials from both sides said

Japan will remove curbs on its exports to the ROK of critical materials for smartphone displays and chips while Seoul will drop a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against Tokyo, officials from both sides said.

The trade dispute has dogged their relationship even as the political importance of semiconductors, and securing their supply, has increased.

"Today's meeting with Prime Minister Kishida has a special meaning of letting the people of our two countries know that South Korea-Japan relations, which have gone through difficult times due to various pending issues, are at a new starting point," Yoon said in remarks as they faced each other across a table. The ROK is also referred to as South Korea.

Before Yoon's arrival, the DPRK had fired a long-range ballistic missile that landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was happy that the opportunity for relations took place on a warm spring day.

The two said they would restart their previously halted "shuttle diplomacy" of regular visits between the leaders.

The Republic of Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol (center left) attends a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (right) at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on March 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

The Republic of Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol (second left) and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (third left) attend an honor guard ceremony ahead of their bilateral meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo on March 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Export curbs

The ROK's President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said they would restart their previously halted "shuttle diplomacy" of regular visits between the leaders

Tokyo imposed the curbs in 2019 as tensions over a decades-old row with Seoul deepened. Thursday's announcement is likely to be seen as a sign of Yoon and Kishida's desire to present a united front and cooperate on supply chains. 

ALSO READ: S. Korea's Yoon: Ties with Japan key amid supply chain concerns

In doing so, they look to leave behind years of animosity sparked by Japan's 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

Yoon has said that he expects to "invigorate" security cooperation and the two leaders are preparing to confirm the restart of a bilateral security dialogue which has been suspended since 2018, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK.

Skepticism at home

Yoon also faces scepticism at home. In a poll by Gallup Korea published Friday, 64 percent of respondents said there was no need to rush to improve ties with Japan if there was no change in its attitude, and 85 percent said they thought the current Japanese government was not apologetic about Japan's colonial history.

The national flags of Japan (left) and the Republic of Korea (right) flutter in the wind ahead of the arrival of ROK President Yoon Suk-yeol at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on March 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Nevertheless, economic ties are strong. The two were each other's fourth-largest export markets in 2021, according to the IMF. Japanese exports to the ROK totaled $52 billion, while the ROK's exports totaled $30 billion, the data showed.

In a fresh reminder of the long-running tensions, two ROK victims of wartime forced labor filed a lawsuit, seeking compensation from Japanese company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, their representatives said on Thursday.

READ MORE: S. Korea's Yoon to meet Japan's Kishida in Tokyo on Thursday

The Republic of Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol (right) and his wife Kim Keon-hee disembark from the aircraft upon their arrival at Tokyo's Haneda Airport on March 16, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Relations between the two countries, which have been strained over the wartime labor issue as well as disputed islands, and Korean girls and women forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, made headway last week when Seoul announced a plan for its companies to compensate former forced laborers. The victims who filed the lawsuit reject that plan.

Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren, said it and its ROK counterpart, the Federation of Korean Industries, agreed to launch foundations aimed at "future-oriented" bilateral relations.

Park Hong-keun, floor leader of the ROK's main opposition Democratic Party, said Yoon's visit should not stop at "his trip down memory lane" and asked Yoon to earn a true apology and resolution from Japan on forced labor issues during his trip.


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