Japan Open to Talks With South Korea on Export Curbs

Japan is ready to explain to South Korea export curbs it applied to materials vital to it’s neighbor’s tech industry, as their dispute stemming from Japan’s colonial rule stoked worries about global supply chains for semiconductors and computer displays, Bloomberg reports.

The two sides were looking to meet on Friday in Tokyo, South Korea’s industry minister Sung Yun-mo said in a news briefing Tuesday. His counterpart, Hiroshige Seko, earlier told reporters in Tokyo that Japan is open to working-level talks but has no intention of withdrawing the measures put in place last week on three specialist materials. Tokyo will be watching how Seoul acts, Seko said.

“We believe this really depends on South Korea’s response. There is of course a possibility the current restrictions will tighten, but if export controls are firmly managed, things may also loosen. Both are possible,” he said when asked if Japan was considering additional measures.

South Korea dismissed accusations it said were raised by Tokyo of it diverting some of the imported materials in question to North Korea. “We urge Japan to halt these groundless claims immediately,” Sung said.

The dispute has moved into the economic arena their dispute over what the two see as proper contrition for Japan’s 1910-1945 rule over the Korean Peninsula. Past fights have mostly kept industries on both sides out of the fray but the worry now is that tensions between the major trading partners and U.S. allies could spiral out of control, Bloomberg adds.

While the stricter checks that took effect Thursday don’t amount to a ban, exporters would be required to obtain a separate license each time they want to sell the materials to South Korea, causing delays. Japan is also considering removing South Korea from a list of trusted export markets, a move that could affect a broader swath of products.

The new restrictions could hurt the profits of South Korean firms that rely on Japanese suppliers, such as Samsung and LG. Japan has 90% of the market for chips used in smartphone displays as well as the etching gas used to make chips, Bloomberg noted.

The U.S. has traditionally stepped in when tensions have become heated between two of Asia’s largest economies as they all confront security threats from North Korea and the ever-expanding shadow of China’s military in the region. In a sign that the fight has caught Washington’s attention, the U.S. expressed its continued commitment to strengthening ties with South Korea and Japan amid the fight on export curbs, Yonhap News of South Korea reported Tuesday, citing an unidentified U.S. State Department official.

South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee will likely visit the U.S. this month, the ministry’s spokesman Park Ki-young said in a regular briefing Monday. A senior South Korean trade official will have talks in Washington later this week about the economic cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. Yonhap said they are also likely to discuss various other issues, including the ongoing trade spat with Japan.

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