Litigating, arbitrating and mediating Japan–Korea trade and investment tensions

James M. Claxton, Luke Nottage, Brett Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


In July 2019, Japan introduced measures tightening export restrictions to South Korea on three chemicals critical to the manufacture of consumer electronics. The restrictions prompted an animated response by the Korean government that has included WTO consultations and threats to terminate an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan. Meanwhile, the controversy has filtered down to the public with boycotts of Japanese products in Korea. Tension between the states has been unusually high since late 2018 when the Korean Supreme Court affirmed a judgment against Japanese companies accused of forcing Korean nationals to labour for them during Japan’s colonial rule. Japan argues that such claims are precluded by a 1965 treaty normalizing post-war relations. While Japan states that its trade restrictions were not motivated by the judgment, the disputes have together contributed to the worst breakdown in cross-border relations in five decades. This article evaluates Korea’s trade claims against Japan, means of resolving them, and the challenges that the claims face in the WTO dispute settlement system. The article also considers claims from the Japanese side through the International Court of Justice (ICJ), inter-state arbitration, and investor-state dispute settlement. We conclude that formal mediation offers an effective means to facilitate negotiations and centralize the WTO and other treaty disputes in a single forum involving multiple stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-614
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of World Trade
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Aug
Externally publishedYes


  • Arbitration
  • Export
  • ISDS
  • International trade law
  • Investment treaties
  • Japan
  • Korea
  • Mediation
  • WTO

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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