Tokyo may strip Seoul of ‘white list’ standing

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Tokyo may strip Seoul of ‘white list’ standing

With Japan launching restrictions on exports of three key materials needed for semiconductors and smartphones to Korea on Thursday, concerns are rising that Japan may remove Korea from its so-called white list of countries with minimal trade restrictions.

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is currently reviewing removing Korea from its white list of countries that receive preferential treatment in export procedures amid a burgeoning dispute over a Korean court ruling on Japan’s wartime use of forced labor.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday that rather than a historical issue, the Korean forced labor issue is one about a broken “promise between under international law.” His chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, likewise has cited a lack of “trust” between the two countries and indicated national security concerns. Seoul and Tokyo face heightened diplomatic tensions, as Japan has protested the Korean Supreme Court rulings last October and November ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced into labor during its colonial rule.

Japanese manufacturers starting Thursday need to file individual applications for exports of fluorinated polyimide, hydrogen fluoride and photoresists, to Korea. The materials are needed in manufacturing chips and displays.

Thus far, Japan’s Trade Ministry’s Center for Information on Security Trade Control website still includes the Republic of Korea among the 27 countries on its white list who pose no security risks and can receive waivers for export applications.

Korea has been on Japan’s white list since 2004. If Japan removes Korea from the list, exports of items other than the three high-tech materials will also require a cumbersome, time-consuming individual application process.

Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday that if Korea is excluded from the white list, exports of a wide scope of items and materials, excluding food and lumber, will face restrictions. The Japanese government reportedly will hold a public hearing by July 24 and decide on excluding Korea from the white list by the end of next month.

“The three materials [restricted Thursday] can be considered a taste of what is to come,” said Lee Jae-min, a professor of law at Seoul National University. “If Korea is excluded from the white list, Japan can freely use national security as a reason to decide on sanctions, and apply great pressure on us.”

While Korea said it will file a complaint with the Word Trade Organization (WTO) to protest Japan’s economic retaliatory measures, actual legal procedures could take years.

Japan’s “retaliatory measures are unreasonable and go against common sense,” Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee meeting Wednesday.

The Blue House National Security Council, after a meeting on Thursday, dsif Japan’s measures “clearly violate WTO regulations and international law” and called for diplomatic measures.

Kim In-chul, spokesman of the Korean Foreign Ministry, in a briefing on Thursday likewise expressed “regret” over Japan’s economic retaliatory measures. However, there is little Seoul can do to prevent itself being removed from Japan’s white list.

Tokyo maintains that a 1965 bilateral treaty normalizing bilateral ties between the countries, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters. The Korean Supreme Court found that it did not acknowledge the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule over the peninsula and that the victims’ rights to individual compensation have not expired.

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