Tokyo – South Korean officials said Saturday they asked Japan to lift restrictions on high-tech exports in a meeting the previous day, rejecting claims by Tokyo that no such demand was made.
The dispute over Japan’s decision last week to impose stricter controls on materials used to produce semiconductors and display panels comes as diplomatic ties sink to their lowest point in years over a disagreement on wartime labor.
“I said the restrictions are regrettable. In other words, I asked for them to be removed,” a South Korean official who took part in the meeting at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry told reporters.
A Japanese official had said after the working-level talks that the South Koreans did not make such a request and only inquired about the reasoning behind the export curbs and the practical aspects of their implementation.
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.
Japan also plans to remove South Korea from a “white list” of countries that can relatively easily purchase products that can be diverted for military use.
The South Korean official said he pushed back against Japan’s insistence that the measures are in the interest of national security and do not violate World Trade Organization rules.
“I stated quite firmly that South Korea cannot understand nor accept nor agree” with the restrictions, he said.
The official, who spoke to reporters before boarding a flight back to South Korea from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, said he and his colleague asked to negotiate the removal of the measures, but the Japanese refused.
The meeting began with a 30-minute explanation by the Japanese followed by more than four hours of pushback from the South Koreans, he said.
Seoul believes the export curbs, which are expected to hurt chipmakers in South Korea such as Samsung Electronics Co. and SK Hynix Inc., are retaliation for its handling of South Korean court decisions ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule.