Asia Minute: Japan and South Korea Tensions Escalate

Jul 2, 2019

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence meet in Pyeongchang, South Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Games.
Credit S. Herman (Voice of America)

Relations between Japan and South Korea have hit another snag. Japan is restricting exports to South Korea of some materials used in the production of smartphones. And the move is part of a much wider dispute.

Japan’s government is tightening the rules when it comes to the export of several chemicals used in the production of high-tech components. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry announced the move on Monday — and it takes effect this Thursday.

Japan’s government says it’s taking the action because of a decline in trust between the two countries.

It all goes back to issues surrounding World War II.

South Korean courts have ordered Japanese companies to compensate people forced into labor during the war. Japan says this issue was resolved decades ago — when the two countries resumed diplomatic relations.

At that time, the Japanese government agreed to a package of wartime reparations — including financial grants.

An official with South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy says the export restrictions announced Monday violate international law. While Japan says they are “in accordance with international export regulations and World Trade Organization rules.”

The move will slow down production of certain types of semiconductors, as well as some smartphones and televisions.

At the recent meeting of G-20 in Japan, there were a number of bi-lateral meetings between world leaders, but Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Moon Jae-in did not meet — only pausing at one point for a brief handshake.