Relations between Japan and South Korea, which have resulted in the former tightening controls on exports to the latter, have further deteriorated following an attempt by Seoul to air its grievances at the World Trade Organisation (‘WTO’).
Earlier this month, WorldECR reported that the Japanese government was considering removing South Korea from its ‘white list’ of ‘safe’ countries, imposing export controls on some goods bound for South Korea ‘in an apparent effort to raise pressure on Seoul to help resolve a bilateral dispute over compensation for wartime labour,’ and that South Korea trade minister Sung Yun-mo had said that his government intended ‘to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation if Japan imposes the ban.’
South Korea brought its complaint to the WTO General Council on 24 July. Reuters reports, however, that at that meeting, Japan insisted that its controls on exports to South Korea ‘were based on security concerns unsuitable for discussion at the WTO.’
South Korea is thought to have been looking for international support and opposition to the imposition by Japan of export controls, and brought the row to the WTO’s General Council hoping to rally international opposition to Japan’s move. But, the news agency reported, ‘Several diplomats from other countries [said] they preferred not to get involved.’
On 23 July, South Korea’s Hankyoreh news agency reported that the South Korean National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee had ‘unanimously passed a resolution to demand that Japan retract its export controls. In the resolution, the committee referred to Japan as causing deliberate damage to the foundations of South Korea-Japan relations and called for the South Korean government to look for solutions to repairing the diplomatic relationship.’
It said that a South Korean delegation was ‘scheduled to meet with US officials in Washington on July 24 to explain Seoul’s position regarding the punitive export controls.’
In a forthcoming book on Asian strategic trade controls, to be published by WorldECR in autumn 2019, Crystal Pryor, program director and research fellow at the Pacific Forum, explains:
‘Japan distinguishes between destination countries as “white countries,” “non-white countries,” “countries of concern,” and UN arms embargo countries. White countries are the 27 countries that participate in all four international export control regimes, such as Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the UK. Exports to these countries are the least regulated. (The white country list contrasts with the United States’ Country Group A, which lists some states that are not members of all four [multilateral export control] regimes).’