Japan, S. Korea to discuss export curbs this week

South Korean students stage a rally to denounce Japanese government's decision near the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 10, 2019. South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday criticized comments by Japanese officials who questioned the credibility of Seoul's sanctions against North Korea while justifying Tokyo's stricter controls on high-tech exports to South Korea. The banners read: "Denounce, Abe's government." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) — The Japanese and South Korean governments have started to plan for talks to be held as early as this week among related officials over Tokyo’s tightening export controls against Seoul on materials to produce semiconductors, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to sources, the Japanese side intends to inform South Korea of its stance that the curb is not an embargo, but a review of trade controls.

The South Korean side has intensified its attitude toward implementing countermeasures, including filing the issue with the World Trade Organization. There is no end in sight to the strife.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry on Thursday tightened export controls against South Korea on three items, including hydrogen fluoride, which is used in the semiconductor industry. Under the measure, exporters are required to apply to the government for each export contract. Application screening takes about 90 days.

Exports will be permitted if no problems are identified in the screening process — mainly in relation to whether the items could be utilized for military purposes. However, permission could be denied.

The South Korean side has criticized Japan’s action as “a retaliatory measure” linked to the problem of lawsuits concerning South Korean former wartime requisitioned workers, and is urging Tokyo to hold a meeting to explain the export controls.

The ministry is likely to stress that Japan’s actions constitute a review of trade controls, and do not correspond to a violation of WTO rules, the sources said.

It will also likely mention that there have been no negotiations between related officials of the two countries for a long time, amid instances of impropriety in connection with the exports of the three items. Tokyo is expected to inform Seoul that it has no intention of retracting the measure and will stress the legitimacy for Japan to take such actions.

Japan has already started a process to revise a government ordinance in order to remove South Korea from a list of 27 nations with “white country” status that can receive preferential treatment for the streamlining of export procedures.

If South Korea was excluded from the list, in addition to the three items already designated, exporters would need to apply to the Japanese government for other kinds of shipments to the country.

At a press conference on Monday morning, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said, “Japanese and South Korean export control authorities have not been communicating with each other for at least three years,” indicating a breakdown of the bilateral relationship of trust with South Korea as an export destination of civilian goods and technology that could be diverted to weapons.