Calls in South Korea for a boycott of Japanese goods in response to Tokyo’s curbs on the export of high-tech material to South Korea picked up on Friday, as a dispute over compensation for forced wartime labor roiled ties between the US allies. It is the latest flashpoint in a relationship long overshadowed by South Korean resentment of Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of the Korean peninsula, in particular South Korean comfort women, a Japanese euphemism for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
Japan apologized to the women as part of a 2015 deal and provided a 1 billion yen ($9.4 million) fund to help them. Advocacy groups for the women have criticized the fund and South Korea dissolved it on Friday, despite Japan’s warnings that such action could damage ties. This is totally unacceptable for Japan. We’ve made stern representations to the South Korean side, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said in Tokyo. The bitterness over the forced labor issue could disrupt global supplies of memory chips and smartphones. On the other hand, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to set up working-level briefings for their South Korean counterparts to explain export restrictions on some semiconductor and display materials that went into effect, according to the Nikkei. The goal of the talks is to show that the measures do not amount to an embargo and to pre-empt any legal challenge in the World Trade Organisation, the newspaper reported, without saying where it obtained the information. Japan has no plan to remove the restrictions, it said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government slapped export restrictions on three highly specialised products needed to make semiconductors and computer displays, and might also remove South Korea from a list of trusted buyers. Starting Thursday, Japanese suppliers of the materials had to file for new export licenses. The move came after South Korean courts ruled that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans conscripted to work in factories and mines during the 1910-45 colonisation of the peninsula.
Separately, Samsung Electronics Co. Vice-Chairman Jay Y. Lee may visit Japan as early as Sunday to discuss the measures with local businessmen, Yonhap reported, citing unidentified people in the financial industry. Lee recently has held multiple meetings with Samsung’s management responsible for the company’s chip business and has reviewed plans to visit Japan.
, according to the report. Samsung declined to confirm Lee’s schedule, Yonhap said. One of the materials targeted is fluorinated polyimide, a synthetic resin that’s used as a substrate in flexible organic light-emitting-diode screens. The other two are resist polymers and hydrogen fluoride, which are used to imprint and etch chip circuits on silicon wafers.