SEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae In on Monday criticized Japan’s decision to enforce restrictions on high-tech exports to its neighbor and warned of the tactic backfiring economically.
Speaking at a meeting at the presidential office, Moon said the tougher export rules run “counter to the history of the development of bilateral ties” and called for their immediate scrapping.
The measure “destroys the framework of South Korea-Japan economic cooperation accumulated over half a century,” he said, adding that the restrictions will cause great damage to the Japanese economy in the end.
Apparently referring to a remark by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggesting that the move was connected to U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea, Moon said that Seoul is faithfully complying with U.N. Security Council resolutions and called the allegation “a grave challenge.”
The Japanese government decided earlier this month to impose stricter controls on exports to South Korea of materials used to produce semiconductors and display panels.
Starting on July 4, Japanese companies must apply for individual licenses to export three chemicals — fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresist — to South Korea. The process, which can take around 90 days, had previously been waived for the country.
Officials from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry explained to their South Korean counterparts on Friday that the measures are intended to address national security concerns and do not violate international trade rules.
Ties between the two countries have sunk to their lowest in years since South Korea’s Supreme Court, last fall, ordered Japanese firms to compensate groups of South Koreans over wartime forced labor.
The firms involved have not responded to the ruling as Japan views the compensation issue as having been “finally and completely” settled by a bilateral treaty signed in 1965.
Seoul alleges that the latest export curbs are in retaliation for its handling of a dispute over wartime labor compensation and has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organization.
Japanese government, in addition to the new restrictions, is also planning to remove South Korea in August from its “white list” of countries that enjoy preferential treatment over shipments of items that could be diverted to military use. South Korea has been on the list since 2004.
Moon also commented briefly on the South Korean government’s proposal last month for companies from both countries to fund payments to wartime labor plaintiffs, which Tokyo has rejected.
“We have not claimed that the method we put forward is the only way,” he said, indicating his administration is open to discussing reasonable solutions with Japan based on proposals.
Japan has said it has moved on from seeking bilateral talks to an arbitration process involving other countries under the terms of the 1965 bilateral accord.