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Japan, South Korea spar over trade talks as US stays away

By ISABEL REYNOLDS AND YUKI FURUKAWA | Bloomberg News | Published: July 13, 2019

TOKYO (Tribune News Service) — Japan and South Korea bickered over the details of rival briefings about export-control talks Saturday as the U.S. backed away from a potential role as a mediator in a fight over history and trade between its two Asian allies.

Officials at Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held a press conference at which they denied an assertion from South Korea that it had called for the reversal of tighter export controls in a Friday meeting.

Jun Iwamatsu, the director of the trade control policy division, said South Korean officials had gone beyond what the two sides had agreed to tell the media, adding that the ministry had complained to the South Korean Embassy.

The latest flare-up in long fraught ties follows a series of South Korean court decisions ordering the seizure of Japanese corporate assets as compensation for Koreans conscripted to work in factories and mines during the 1910-1945 colonial era. The issue escalated from a regional diplomatic spat to a global trade worry last week after Japan moved to curb the export of specialty materials vital to South Korea's technology sector.

Japan said there have been "inappropriate incidents" involving exports of the materials. It is also planning to remove South Korea from a list of so-called "white countries" that are not deemed to present a risk of weapons proliferation.

South Korean officials who attended the meeting in Tokyo Friday said on Saturday that they had expressed regret over Japan's export curbs and asked for a withdrawal of the measures, Yonhap News Agency reported. The Korean officials were countering a Japanese counterpart's recent comment that the South Korean side didn't ask Tokyo to revoke the steps, according to Yonhap.

David Stilwell, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told public broadcaster NHK that he wouldn't seek to mediate in the dispute, but would encourage both sides to focus on key regional issues and in particular North Korea. Stilwell is on his first visit to Japan since his appointment last month.

"I encourage both sides to sit down and talk and find a positive way out of the situation," he said.

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With assistance from Kyungji Cho.

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