Japan is delaying export approval of a material vital to South Korea's semiconductor manufacturing industry. File photo/ AFP
Japan has lifted curbs on the export of a key microchip material to South Korea, news reports said on Saturday, days before the leaders of both countries meet in their first formal talks for more than a year.
The ministry of economy, trade and industry on Friday removed photoresists — used to coat semiconductor circuit boards — from Tokyo’s export restrictions against Seoul, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other reports said.
Japan tightened export controls on three materials essential to key products of South Korean tech companies such as Samsung in July after a series of South Korean court rulings ordered Japanese firms to compensate war-time forced labour victims.
The move infuriated Tokyo, which insists the matter was settled in a 1965 treaty normalising diplomatic relations between the two countries, which included significant reparations.
Tokyo’s export controls led to Seoul threatening to withdraw from a key military intelligence-sharing pact, alarming the United States who said that would benefit North Korea and China.
South Korea later reversed course and agreed to extend the pact “conditionally.”
Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe is due to meet South Korean leader Moon Jae-in at a summit in China next week.
South Korea plans to file a complaint over Japan’s tighter export controls at the World Trade Organization on Wednesday, accusing Tokyo of being “politically motivated” and “discriminatory” in an escalating row rooted in wartime history.
Japan and South Korea ratcheted up tension on Tuesday in a diplomatic dispute that threatens to disrupt global supply of smartphones and chips, with Seoul denouncing Japanese media reports
The dispute took a tragic turn earlier on Friday when a South Korean man set himself on fire in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in an apparent protest.
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