The Latest: S. Korea, Japan ministers trade barbs at ASEAN

The Latest on Japan downgrading South Korea’s trade status (all times local):

11:55 a.m.

South Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has slammed Tokyo’s “unilateral and arbitrary” decision to remove South Korea from a “whitelist” of countries with preferential trade status, but her Japanese counterpart Taro Kono says the move was legitimate.

The two ministers traded barbs Friday at an annual meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok.

Kang said South Korea is “gravely concerned” by Japan’s move that is challenging the region’s goal of expanding free flow of trade and commerce.

Kono said maintaining effective export control over sensitive goods and technology from a security perspective was Japan’s right and that it complied with free trade rules. He also said South Korea would still enjoy preferred status on par with ASEAN nations.

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11:45 a.m.

Japanese trade minister Hiroshige Seko says Japan’s decision to remove South Korea’s preferential trade status only means the country gets a standard treatment and should not affect bilateral relations.

Japan’s Cabinet on Friday decided to remove South Korea’s “white country” status as of Aug. 28, expanding controls over exports of sensitive materials potentially used for weapons.

It adds to an earlier requirement for Japanese exporters to get individual licensing on three high-tech materials, which has triggered angry protests and boycotts from South Korea.

Seko said Friday’s decision was necessary for Japan to maintain appropriate export controls for national security, and was not meant to retaliate over the dispute involving Korean wartime labor issue.

Seko urged South Korea to first improve its export controls to mitigate Japan’s doubts and regain trust.

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11:30 a.m.

South Korea’s presidential office has expressed “deep regret” and vowed a stern response over Japan’s decision to take the country off its list of nations with preferred trade status.

In a statement read on national TV, Blue House spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said Seoul had committed to resolving its trade row with Tokyo diplomatically and will now sternly respond to the Japanese measures it sees as “unjust.”

Ko says President Moon Jae-in will address the issue ahead of a Cabinet meeting later on Friday and the country’s finance minister will also announce government plans in response to the expanded Japanese export controls.

South Korea says the Japanese trade curbs could hurt its export-dependent economy and has accused Japan of weaponizing trade to retaliate over bilateral disputes stemming from wartime history.

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10:30 a.m.

Japan has approved the removal of South Korea from a “whitelist” of countries with preferential trade status, escalating tensions between the neighbors.

Friday’s Cabinet decision expanding controls over exports of sensitive materials takes effect on Aug. 28.

It follows an earlier requirement that Japanese companies’ exports to South Korea be approved on a case-by-case basis for three materials used in semiconductors, smartphones and other high-tech devices.

The decision will fuel antagonism between the two neighbors already at a boiling point over the export controls and the issue of compensation for wartime Korean laborers.

It will ripple across the high-tech sector, further affecting supply chains already rattled by U.S.-China trade tensions.

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