Japan’s downgrading of South Korea’s trade status took effect Wednesday, a decision that has already set off a series of reactions hurting bilateral relations.
Japanese manufacturers now must apply for approval for each technology-related contract for South Korean export, rather than the simpler checks granted a preferential trade partner, which is still the status of the U.S. and others.
Since Japan announced the decision about two months ago, South Korea decided to similarly downgrade Tokyo’s trade status, which will take effect next month. Seoul has also canceled a deal to share military intelligence with Japan.
South Korea has accused Japan of weaponizing trade because of a separate dispute linked to Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Japan denies retaliating and says wartime compensation issues were already settled.
“This is just a review to enable proper checks on exports, and it’s not motivated by any intention to affect relations with South Korea, let alone any retaliation,” Hiroshige Seko, minister of economy, trade and industry, said Tuesday, in anticipation of the change taking effect.
He reiterated Japan’s position that the decision was over concerns about what could be used for military purposes. Japan has never specified the security concerns further, or how they originated.
Seko also denounced South Korea’s scrapping the military intelligence agreement, called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, arguing the trade decision was not directly related to military cooperation.
The intelligence-sharing agreement remains in effect until November. Japan and South Korea have shared information about North Korea’s missile launches, the latest of which happened Saturday.
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