Japan cites security concerns in curbing exports to South Korea

Japan says restrictions on technology exports do not contravene WTO rules, as relations sour after forced labour ruling.

Japan Korea LG displays
Japan is restricting the export of components used in the manufacture of display panels, laptops, smartphones and other technology products [File: John Locher/AP]

Japan has defended its decision to impose export restrictions on South Korea, citing national security concerns and its international duty to keep tabs on sensitive technology that has military uses.

Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said on Tuesday that Japan’s move was part of “appropriately implementing export controls for national security reasons”.

But Suga, like other officials, also cited a “lack of trust” after exchanges with South Korea at the G20 summit in Osaka failed to create “satisfactory solutions”.

“That, I must say, seriously damaged our relationship of mutual trust,” he said.

The trade ministry said on Monday that exports related to manufacturing computer chips, such as fluorinated polyimides used for displays, must apply for approval for each contract beginning on Thursday.

It said Japan was effectively removing South Korea from a list of countries including the United States and many European nations that face minimum restrictions on trade.

Until now, exports have required only a single encompassing approval process. Now, ministry approvals will be delayed on average by 90 days, a trade ministry official in Japan told the AP news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

South Korea reacted with consternation and its trade minister said it would file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, which governs international trade.

Japan’s Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said on Tuesday that the controls did not violate WTO rules.

“These measures are necessary for the proper implementation of export controls for security,” Seko said.

Forced labour fight

Japan is a major supplier of materials used to make the computer chips that run most devices, including smartphones and laptop computers. Other exports affected by the decision include components for making semiconductors, as well as pharmaceuticals and polymers, including nylon and Teflon.

LG Display, the South Korean company that is one of the world’s biggest display makers, said it was not affected by the Japanese trade restrictions, but Samsung and SK Hynix said they were assessing the potential impact.

Relations between the two countries have soured since South Korea’s top court in October ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp to pay 100 million won ($88,000) each to four plaintiffs forced to work for the company when Japan colonised the Korean Peninsula during 1910-45.

The company refused, siding with Japan’s long-held position that all colonial-era compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic relations between the two governments.

The South Korean Supreme Court ordered the seizure of local assets of the company after it refused to pay the compensation.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has also refused an order by the South Korean Supreme Court to financially compensate 10 Koreans for forced labour during colonial times.

Source: AP