Korea’s top economic policymakers floated the idea of sitting down with the country’s five largest conglomerate heads to draw up a strategy against retaliatory trade barriers from Japan over the wartime labor row.
When asked if he would be willing to meet with top chaebol chiefs on Friday, Hong Nam-ki, deputy prime minister and finance minister, retorted “Is there any reason not to?” When pressed if he would be meeting them with Kim Sang-jo, presidential policy chief, he answered that he would confirm after coordinating the matter with the Blue House.
A Blue House official said no schedule has yet been fixed but that “meetings of various forms are currently under preparation.”
The meeting is likely to include Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee, Hyundai Motor Group Executive Vice Chairman Chung Eui-sun, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, LG Group Chairman Koo Kwang-mo and Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin.
The liberal Moon Jae-in administration’s traditionally anti-chaebol sentiment has lately been eased in the face of worsening economic conditions from flagging capital investment and hiring and growing headwinds on the external front.
Japan’s first batch of embargo actions targeting Korea’s component industry will likely be at the top of the agenda. When asked about the details of possible countermeasures against Japan, Hong reiterated that the government was reviewing all necessary actions including a suit with the World Trade Organization, without elaborating further.
Relations between Korea and Japan straddled towards the point of no-return after Tokyo announced Monday it curb exports to Korea of three tech materials that are critical in producing chips and displays, a direct blow to Korea’s mainstay industries. Seoul denounced the move motivated as retaliation for recent court rulings in Korea over wartime compensation claims, which Japan argued were resolved in the 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties.
From Thursday, Korea was stripped of its preferential fast-track export status as Japanese exporters now need to apply for permission each time they want to ship these materials to Korea, a process that could take about 90 days.
Japan is said to be considering expanding the sanctions to a wider range of exports, a move that could have ripple effects across Korea’s manufacturing supply chains as the country relies heavily on Japanese imports of high-tech materials, components and equipment.
By Sohn Il-seon and Kim Hyo-jin
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