South Korea and Japan on Monday agreed to continue talks to resolve their monthslong trade row, sharing what they called an "expanded mutual understanding" of each other's export control system.
The two sides held lengthy talks in Tokyo earlier in the day, the first step in seeking a breakthrough to help mend the frayed economic and political ties following Tokyo's export curbs on some key materials shipped to Seoul.
"The two countries were able to boost mutual understanding of each other's export management system ... and agreed to continue communications and talks to contribute to the resolution of pending issues as well as to provide updates on what should be done in each other's export control system and implementation," Seoul's trade ministry said in a statement.
The two also agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in Seoul "at an early date," according to the ministry.
The director-general-level meeting was the first since June 2016 and could be crucial in dealing with the trade conflict. It was also the first official gathering of trade officials between the two Asian neighbors after Seoul conditionally suspended the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan last month as a gesture to settle the trade row.
At the meeting, South Korea and Japan discussed a variety of issues related to each other's export control system, including regulations of sensitive technologies, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. The meeting ran for more than 10 hours.
Following the meeting, Japanese Trade Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said that, for the two countries, having the dialogue at all represents progress.
"There are things we can confirm through these talks," Kajiyama said, in response to a reporter's comment that the two sides have made no real progress other than talking. "Repeated dialogue will help us make decisions."
Asked why the meeting went on for three hours longer than scheduled, Kajiyama said, "It's because the two sides discussed the issues patiently."
On whether he was satisfied with the South Korean side's explanation of Seoul's export control system, the Japanese minister said, "We're still at a point where we're exchanging opinions on our respective systems."
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have been facing a deadlock since Japan imposed restrictions on exporting three key industrial materials critical for South Korea's chip and display industries in July. Japan later removed Seoul from its list of trusted trading partners.
Seoul wants Tokyo to put it back on the whitelist, but Japan said the issue should be handled separately.
Tokyo cited South Korea's allegedly lax export control system for sensitive materials that could be diverted for military use as the ostensible reason for its export restrictions but did not provide clear evidence to back the allegation up.
Seoul regards the series of measures as a retaliation against the country's Supreme Court rulings last year that ordered compensation for Koreans forced into labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
While Monday's meeting is not expected to immediately settle the dispute, Seoul aims to eventually induce Tokyo to fully lift all export curbs and other export regulations against Asia's No. 4 economy.
Tokyo insists that its own policies are not up for negotiation with other countries and that related decisions will be made after looking deeper into South Korea's export control system.
(3rd LD) S. Korea, Japan agree to continue talks over trade war - 2
In a separate development, top diplomats of South Korea and Japan held one-on-one talks on the sidelines of a multilateral meeting in Spain on Sunday (Spain time) and discussed key issues related to the trade dispute.
During the 10-minute talks, Seoul's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told her Japanese counterpart, Toshimitsu Motegi, that she hopes the talks over the trade row will lead to Japan retracting the export restrictions.
The two sides could also meet on the sidelines of an upcoming trilateral summit later this month.
President Moon Jae-in, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are set to hold a three-way summit in Chengdu on Dec. 24 to discuss cooperation on a range of issues that will likely include peace efforts with North Korea.
South Korea and Japan may hold a separate bilateral summit focusing on the issues regarding trade and their shared history. (Yonhap)