Lee Ho-hyeon, an official from South Korea's trade ministry, said Japanese officials in the meeting cited inadequate bilateral discussions as a reason why their government tightened controls on high-tech exports to South Korea, but didn't clearly say whether Tokyo believes Seoul may have illegally transferred sensitive materials to North Korea.
However, a Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official yesterday said that the curbs on exports of the materials were not retaliation in the feud over compensation for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms.
The move sparked anger in Seoul, but also raised worldwide concern about the effect on the global tech supply chain and the possibility of price hikes for consumers.
The United States is trying to ease the tensions between its two Eastern Asian allies - Japan and South Korea - over Tokyo's export restriction of crucial high-tech materials to Seoul, the U.S. Department of State said Thursday. Instead, it said the curbs were introduced in response to Seoul's lack of export control on key strategic items.
The heightened friction between the two core Asian allies has always been a hurdle for Washington's scheme to strengthen its network of regional allies and partner countries to promote security and safeguard what it calls the rules-based order amid an intensifying Sino-US rivalry. "It is not a World Trade Organisation violation, and it is not a countermeasure".
"The nature of the meeting is not a consultation, but an occasion where Japan gives explanation after getting a request from the South Korean government", Iwamatsu said.
The Japanese officials reiterated Tokyo's stance that it won't negotiate over the trade curbs and said, without specifying, that there have been "inappropriate" cases regarding Japanese exports to South Korea.
South Korea's foreign minister on Wednesday expressed concern about Japan's stringent trade controls, telling U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo they could destabilize not only the South Korean economy but also global supply chains.
Seoul has threatened to take the issue to the World Trade Organisation and also urged Washington to intervene.
South Korea insists that its export controls are stronger than Japan's.
Relations between Washington's two Asian allies have always been plagued by memories of Japan's 1910-45 colonisation of the peninsula and the war, including the matter of "comfort women", a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
"As the dispute deepens, it is increasingly hard for either Moon or Abe to yield", wrote Tobias Harris, an analyst at the Teneo consultancy group, in a note.
"The plan to integrate F-35A fighters into the military force is proceeding without any difficulty, but we are not able to confirm the schedule of acquiring [the aircraft]", the South Korean official said.
A Japanese official later explained that the bureaucrats had earlier met and exchanged greetings.
"We will accept emails if they have technical questions".
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