SEOUL - Moon Jae-in, president of the
Republic of Korea, on Wednesday criticized comments by Japanese officials who
questioned the credibility of Seoul's sanctions against the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea when they justified Tokyo's stricter controls on high-tech
exports to the ROK.
The issue has become a full-blown diplomatic dispute between the
neighboring US allies in Asia.
In a meeting with ROK business leaders at Seoul's presidential
palace, Moon said his government was committed to resolving the matter
diplomatically and urged Japan to refrain from pushing the situation to a
Tokyo last week tightened the approval process for Japanese
shipments of photoresists and other sensitive materials to ROK companies, which
need the chemicals to produce semiconductors and display screens used in TVs
Japanese officials say such materials can be exported only to
trustworthy trading partners, hinting at security risks without citing specific
cases. Tokyo hasn't elaborated, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his
conservative aides have hinted there may have been illegal transfers of
sensitive materials from the ROK to the DPRK.
Moon spoke hours after ROK officials told a WTO meeting in
Geneva that the Japanese measures would have repercussions for electronics
products worldwide and called for their withdrawal. Japanese officials
countered that the measures didn't amount to a trade embargo, but rather a
review of export controls based on security concerns.
The ROK, which has an export-reliant economy, sees the Japanese
trade curbs as retaliation for ROK court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to
compensate aging ROK plaintiffs for forced labor during World War II and plans
to file a complaint with the WTO.
Japanese officials have rejected any link to historical
"(Our) government is doing its best to resolve the issue
diplomatically...(I call for) the Japanese government to respond. It should no
longer walk straight toward a dead-end street," Moon said in a meeting
with senior executives from 30 of the country's biggest companies, including
Samsung, Hyundai and SK.
"The Japanese government's move to inflict damage on our
economy to serve political purposes and link (the issue) with sanctions against
North Korea (DPRK) without any evidence is surely not ideal for the friendship
and security cooperation between the two countries," Moon said.
He called for the ROK government and private companies to form
an "emergency response system" to deal with the impact of the
Japanese trade curbs.
Analysts said the Japanese measure won't have a meaningful
impact immediately on ROK chipmakers Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, which
both have sufficient supplies of the materials for now, given the slowdown in
demand for semiconductors.
But there's concern that Japan might expand the restrictions to
include other sectors. Shin Hakcheol, the CEO of LG Chem, said on Tuesday the
company was planning for possible restrictions on battery materials.