Tokyo-Seoul feud deepens with disputed accounts of trade meeting

Japan has restricted export of three materials citing what it has called ‘inadequate management’ of sensitive items exported to South Korea. (AP/File)
Updated 14 July 2019

Tokyo-Seoul feud deepens with disputed accounts of trade meeting

  • The ongoing export dispute may threaten global supplies of microchips, smartphone displays

SEOUL, TOKYO: A row between Japan and South Korea escalated on Saturday, with contested accounts of a frosty meeting the day before that had failed to make progress on a dispute that could threaten global supplies of microchips and smartphone displays.
Tokyo lodged a protest against Seoul, saying it had broken an agreement on what the two sides would disclose from the Friday discussions on Japan’s curbs of exports to Korea of some materials used to make high-tech equipment, said Japanese Trade Ministry official Jun Iwamatsu.
Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) also disputed a Korean official’s statement that Seoul had asked Japan on Friday to withdraw the restrictions.
But a Korean Trade Ministry official shot back that Seoul had “clearly demanded Japan withdraw its trade restrictions at yesterday’s meeting, and there should be no disagreement over that matter with Japan.”
He told Reuters the two sides had discussed what they would disclose but that there was no agreement.
“I am frustrated,” said the Korean official, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Japan recently tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in high-tech equipment, citing what it has called “inadequate management” of sensitive items exported to South Korea, as well as a lack of consultations about export controls.
But the dispute also appears to be rooted in a decades-old wartime disagreement. It comes amid deep frustration in Japan over what Tokyo sees as Seoul’s failure to act in response to a South Korean court ruling ordering a Japanese company to compensate former forced laborers from the World War II.
In the Friday talks, South Korean officials expressed regret over Japan’s export restrictions and asked Tokyo to remove them, participant Han Cheol-hee, a Trade Ministry director, told reporters as he was leaving Japan on Saturday.
In response, Iwamatsu, director of METI’s trade control policy division, told a hastily arranged news conference: “We’ve checked the record of the meeting ... We found no clear comment asking for the withdrawal.”

FASTFACT

• Japan recently tightened restrictions on the export of three materials used in high-tech equipment.

• Seoul regrets the curbs and wants those restrictions lifted.

• The last meeting failed to produce results and the details will be made public later.

Iwamatsu said the two sides had agreed on what they would disclose from the talks but that the Korean official went beyond the agreement. “We believe this is something that affects our relationship of trust,” he said.
One reason for the sensitivity over characterizing the talks could be a Japanese fear that if Korea can assert that it used consultations and unsuccessfully sought to have Tokyo withdraw the curbs, Seoul could justify escalating the matter to the World Trade Organization.
“The nature of the meeting is not a consultation, but an occasion where Japan gives an explanation after getting a request from the South Korean government,” Iwamatsu said.
“Therefore, we would like to correct an expression from a South Korean official that the meeting can appropriately be described as consultation for problem solving.”
Friday’s talks began with two negotiators from each side facing off in stony silence in a small meeting room, without greeting each other and with the Japanese officials not standing or bowing when their Korean counterparts entered.
A Japanese official later explained that the bureaucrats had earlier met and exchanged greetings. South Korean media, however, reported there was a “cold reception” for their officials, and that the meeting took place in a room that looked like a “garage.”


Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

Updated 25 August 2019

Squabbles erupt as G7 leaders open summit in French resort

  • Disputes on trade, climate may eclipse Macron’s agenda
  • EU’s Tusk warns of lack of global unity, spars with Johnson

BIARRITZ, France: Squabbles erupted among G7 nations on Saturday as their leaders gathered for an annual summit, exposing sharp differences on global trade tensions, Britain’s exit from the EU and how to respond to the fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit host, planned the three-day meeting in the Atlantic seaside resort of Biarritz as a chance to unite a group of wealthy countries that has struggled in recent years to speak with one voice.
Macron set an agenda for the group — France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — that included the defense of democracy, gender equality, education and the environment. He invited Asian, African and Latin American leaders to join them for a global push on these issues.
However, in a bleak assessment of relations between once-close allies, European Council President Donald Tusk said it was getting “increasingly” hard to find common ground.
“This is another G7 summit which will be a difficult test of unity and solidarity of the free world and its leaders,” he told reporters ahead of the meeting. “This may be the last moment to restore our political community.”
US President Donald Trump had brought last year’s G7 summit to an acrimonious end, walking out early from the gathering in Canada and rejecting the final communique.
Trump arrived in France a day after responding to a new round of Chinese tariffs by announcing that Washington would impose an additional 5% duty on some $550 billion worth of Chinese imports, the latest escalation of the tit-for-tat trade war by the world’s two largest economies.
“So far so good,” Trump told reporters as he sat on a seafront terrace with Macron, saying the two leaders had a special relationship. “We’ll accomplish a lot this weekend.”
Macron listed foreign policy issues the two would address, including Libya, Syria and North Korea, and said they shared the objective of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Trump later wrote on Twitter that lunch with Macron was the best meeting the pair has yet had, and that a meeting with world leaders on Saturday evening also “went very well.”
However, the initial smiles could not disguise the opposing approaches of Trump and Macron to many problems, including the knotty questions of protectionism and tax.
Before his arrival, Trump repeated a threat to tax French wines in retaliation for a new French levy on digital services, which he says unfairly targets US companies.
Two US officials said the Trump delegation was also irked that Macron had skewed the focus of the G7 meeting to “niche issues” at the expense of the global economy, which many leaders worry is slowing sharply and at risk of slipping into recession.
French riot police used water cannons and tear gas on Saturday to disperse anti-capitalism protesters in Bayonne, near Biarritz. A police helicopter circled as protesters taunted lines of police.
The leaders themselves were gathering behind tight security in a waterfront conference venue, the surrounding streets barricaded by police.

Spat over ‘Mr. No Deal’ Brexit
Macron opened the summit with a dinner at the base of a clifftop lighthouse overlooking Biarritz, where a menu of piperade, a Basque vegetable specialty, tuna and French cheeses awaited the leaders.
Adding to the unpredictable dynamic between the G7 leaders are the new realities facing Brexit-bound Britain: dwindling influence in Europe and growing dependency on the United States.
New Prime Minister Boris Johnson will want to strike a balance between not alienating Britain’s European allies and not irritating Trump and possibly jeopardizing future trade ties. Johnson and Trump will hold bilateral talks on Sunday morning.
Johnson and Tusk sparred before the summit over who would be to blame if Britain leaves the EU on Oct. 31 without a withdrawal agreement.
Tusk told reporters he was open to ideas from Johnson on how to avoid a no-deal Brexit when the two men meet.
“I still hope that PM Johnson will not like to go down in history as Mr.No Deal,” said Tusk, who as council president leads the political direction of the 28-nation European Union.
Johnson, who has said since he took office last month that he will take Britain out of the bloc on Oct. 31 regardless of whether a deal can be reached, later retorted that it would be Tusk himself who would carry the mantle if Britain could not secure a new withdrawal agreement.
“I would say to our friends in the EU if they don’t want a no-deal Brexit then we’ve got to get rid of the backstop from the treaty,” Johnson told reporters, referring to the Irish border protocol that would keep the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland open after Brexit.
“If Donald Tusk doesn’t want to go down as Mr.No Deal then I hope that point will be borne in mind by him, too,” Johnson said on his flight to France.
Johnson is trying to persuade EU leaders to drop the backstop from a withdrawal agreement that was negotiated by his predecessor but rejected three times by the British Parliament as the United Kingdom struggles to fulfill a 2016 referendum vote to leave the bloc.

‘Not the way to proceed’
Despite the Brexit tensions, diplomats played down the likelihood of Trump and Johnson joining hands against the rest, citing Britain’s foreign policy alignment with Europe on issues from Iran and trade to climate change.
“There won’t be a G5+2,” one senior G7 diplomat said.
Indeed, Johnson said he would tell Trump to pull back from a trade war that is already destabilising economic growth around the world.
“This is not the way to proceed,” he said. “Apart from everything else, those who support the tariffs are at risk of incurring the blame for the downturn in the global economy, irrespective of whether or not that is true.”
Anti-summit protests have become common, and on Saturday thousands of anti-globalization activists, Basque separatists and “yellow vest” protesters marched peacefully across France’s border with Spain to demand action from the leaders.
“It’s more money for the rich and nothing for the poor,” said Alain Missana, an electrician wearing a yellow vest — symbol of anti-government protests that have rattled France for months.
EU leaders piled pressure on Friday on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over fires raging in the Amazon rainforest.
Even so, Britain and Germany were at odds with Macron’s decision to pressure Brazil by blocking a trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur group of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said not concluding the trade deal was “not the appropriate answer to what is happening in Brazil now.”
The UK’s Johnson appeared to disagree with Macron on how to respond. “There are all sorts of people who will take any excuse at all to interfere with trade and to frustrate trade deals and I don’t want to see that,” he said.