By Tomoko Tsuda and Hiroyuki Sato / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers Japan has clearly showed that its stricter controls on exports to South Korea are not an “embargo” as claimed by Seoul, by granting approval for the shipment of some of the three items subject to the export controls one month after their introduction.
“Since the South Korean government unjustifiably labled Japan’s measure as if it were an embargo, we decided to exceptionally make public the fact that we have granted the approval,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said at a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.
He said that it was unusual to officially announce individual export approvals, indicating Japan’s intention of trying to calm the excessive response on the South Korean side.
It is believed that Japan granted approval to the shipment of resist, a substance applied to semiconductor substrates to act as a protective film for circuits. The item in question is the most advanced product used for extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) rays and is used to produce semiconductors with small circuits of less than 10 nanometers (one-billionth of a meter.)
South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., which is believed to be the export destination of the item, could have been put at a disadvantage in a global development competition if it had become difficult to import resist produced in Japan.
Since July 4, Japan has been implementing stricter controls on exports of hydrogen fluoride and fluorinated polyimide as well as resist to South Korea by requiring companies to apply for export approval with the economy ministry for an individual export contract. As a result, Japanese companies exporting the three items are required to complete more complicated procedures.
For exporting fluorinated polyimide and resist, Japanese companies now need to prepare seven kinds of documents including product specifications. As for hydrogen fluoride, which is more likely to be diverted for military use, nine kinds of documents, including procurement records of the products of South Korean companies to which it will be exported.
After receiving an application, the economy ministry secures up to 90 days for screening. However, a senior ministry official said, “Actually, it takes about a month to make a decision in many cases.” As for the recent export approval, the official said, “It is a result of usual screening processes.”
No changes seen
From here on, the ministry plans to steadily screen applications for exports to South Korea and grant approvals to applications that have no problems.
Concerning South Korea’s export control system, which Japan sees as “fragile,” Seko said, “We have seen no signs of change to the system.” Unless Seoul takes no concrete measures to address the situation, Tokyo will not withdraw the stricter export controls.
From Aug. 28 onward, South Korea will be excluded from the Group A (White Country) status, or trade partners qualified for preferential treatment of simplified export procedures.
South Korea is urging Japan to have a dialogue including the withdrawal of the measures. But, Japan plans to wait for South Korea to take action, as Seko said: “South Korea one-sidedly announced inaccurate contents concerning a briefing session for relevant officials of both countries on July 12. Unless South Korea makes corrections, we cannot hold director-general level talks.”
However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in will deliver a speech on Aug. 15 at a ceremony to celebrate the Korean Liberation Day, marking the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from the Japanese colonial rule, and there are few prospects of South Korea softening its attitude on the issue.
“It will be difficult to hold a dialogue in a cool-headed manner for a while,” said a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official.