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Japan signals potential reversal of South Korea trade restrictions

By Elizabeth Shim
Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said Friday dialogue on trade with South Korea could improve relations. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said Friday dialogue on trade with South Korea could improve relations. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Japan suggested Friday it could consider relaxing trade restrictions that target South Korea if "problems are resolved" between the two countries.

Tokyo's Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama told reporters Japan is to hold a director-level policy dialogue on trade on Monday, NHK reported.

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"Through repeated dialogues, if the shortcomings of the South Korean side's system and operation are resolved, would it not lead to a good direction?" Kajiyama said.

In July, Japan imposed trade restrictions on the export of key chemicals to South Korea, citing lack of trust. Tokyo then removed Korea from a "white list" of preferred trading partners, a move that escalated tensions that have yet to subside despite recent talks.

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Experts say Japan was responding to a South Korean court order requiring Japanese firms to compensate forced Korean laborers during wartime.

South Korea's decision in November to retain GSOMIA, a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo, has mitigated some of the worst tensions. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are to meet before the end of the year during a trilateral summit in Chengdu, China.

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On Friday Kajiyama expressed optimism about future talks with Seoul.

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"We expect problems will be resolved one by one in the course of policy dialogue," Kajiyama said. "There is then the possibility [trade regulations] could go back to its original state."

South Korea-Japan tensions may have been responsible for a steep decline in Japan-bound Korean tourism.

South Korean television network MBC reported Friday rental car companies and restaurants on the Japanese island of Tsushima, the territory closest to Korea, are experiencing loss of revenue as Korean tourists "boycott" Japan travel.

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Tsushima has requested "urgent assistance" from Japan's central government in response to economic losses, according to the report.

South Korean tourists comprise about 90 percent of travelers to the island.

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