Japan export curbs take effect as S Korean officials protest

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Tightened Japanese controls on exports of key materials used to make semiconductors and displays took effect yesterday, as South Korean officials vowed to fight back.

The Japanese government ordered the more stringent approval process for shipments of photoresists and other key chemicals as relations with its neighbour and fellow United States (US) ally deteriorated due to issues related to forced labour during World War II.

The President’s Office said South Korea’s National Security Council met yesterday in Seoul, with members vowing to pursue diplomatic countermeasures.

It said the move is viewed as an “explicit breach of international law, including World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations”.

Japanese officials insist the decision to end preferential treatment for such exports to South Korea was required because of a lack of trust that poses a risk to national security.

Minister for Trade at South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy Yoo Myung-hee said the revised rules not only hurt ties with Japan but also might disrupt global supply chains.

“Japan’s move to impose stronger export restrictions based on an arbitrary claim of ‘damaged trust’ fully goes against the spirit of the (international arrangement) to control exports of strategic commodities,” Yoo said in a meeting with trade and technology industry officials yesterday.

She said the Japanese measures go against both WTO rules and an agreement called the Wassenaar Arrangement, a 42-country arms-control pact aimed at governing weapons trade and the dissemination of sensitive technologies that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.

Japan and South Korea both are members of the pact, which requires that export restrictions should not be directed against a specific country and also not impede “bona fide civil transactions,” the ministry said.

The ministry earlier said the Seoul government plans to file a complaint with WTO over the Japanese measures.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim In-chul yesterday reiterated Seoul’s demand for Tokyo to “immediately” withdraw the trade restrictions. “The measure is an irrational economic retaliation and goes against common sense,” Kim said. “It’s very regrettable (that the measure went into effect).”

A Japanese government spokesman reiterated Tokyo’s insistence that the tighter controls were needed on national security grounds, even though officials have not given any examples of specific problems.

“Export controls with South Korea have been challenging. Inaccurate and inappropriate cases have occurred, so stricter, tougher export controls are needed,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said.