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Japan, S. Korea officials discuss export curbs amid strained ties


TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese and South Korean officials on Friday discussed Tokyo's new restrictions on high-tech exports to South Korea, the first meeting between the two countries since the curbs took effect last week.

But they seem unlikely to move closer to resolving the issue, which has come as diplomatic relations sink to their lowest point in years.

South Korea is calling for the removal of the restrictions, which it says are retaliation for its handling of a dispute over wartime forced labor, while Japan maintains that tighter controls are necessary to address national security concerns.

Japan's top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told a press conference Friday that the working-level meeting in Tokyo is not intended to include "negotiations."

Officials from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are slated to explain to South Korean counterparts the reasoning behind the decision to restrict exports of three chemicals used in the production of semiconductors and display panels.

As of Thursday last week, Japanese firms are required to acquire individual licenses to export the three chemicals -- fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and resist -- to South Korea, which can take around 90 days. Previously, South Korea had enjoyed preferred status that allowed it to bypass the process.

The restrictions are expected to hurt South Korean exports, of which semiconductors account for around 20 percent. Manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc. rely on Japanese suppliers for the vast majority of the materials.

The move was announced amid a standstill in a dispute over South Korean court decisions ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The companies have refused to comply, in line with Japan's stance that the issue of compensation was resolved under a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the countries. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have threatened to liquidate the companies' seized assets.

Japan has asked South Korea to establish an arbitration panel involving a third country, to resolve the dispute, while South Korea has proposed pooling funds from Japanese and South Korean firms to compensate the victims, but so far neither side has budged.

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