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Tragedies over the trade spat with Seoul

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Two junior directors from the South Korean trade ministry and their Japanese counterparts held an unusual six-hour meeting in Tokyo last Friday. It was a nightmare scenario for those who recall the security coordination between the United States, Japan and South Korea during the Cold War. Back then, the de facto tripartite hub-and-spoke alliance was solid and functional. Those four officials in charge of security-related export control may not be senior enough to remember the good old days of the 1980s.

For Tokyo, the measures announced July 1 were a well-crafted, World Trade Organization-consistent “silver bullet” that would hopefully put an end to the ongoing disputes with South Korea.

Optimistic Japanese officials, therefore, might have been startled to see a New York Times article on July 15 that said “Mr. Abe became the latest world leader to strike a blow against free trade, when he moved to limit South Korea’s access to Japanese chemicals … citing vague and unspecified concerns about national security.”

The article went on to say that “the Japanese exporters will need to apply for licenses for each one, a process that can take up to 90 days. Additionally, Japan has indicated it may remove South Korea from a list of countries that are exempt from licensing requirements for exports with possible military applications.”

While officials in Tokyo might have thought it was a great idea at first, they did not anticipate that the rest of the world would misunderstand and consider the measures another example of a nation using trade measures to coerce other nations over unrelated issues, which U.S.........

© The Japan Times