Japan to lift export curbs on key chip materials to S. Korea

Asian Tech Press (Mar 17) -- Japan has agreed to lift restrictions on exports of key semiconductor materials to South Korea, just as the two countries' leaders launched their first bilateral summit in 12 years.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol at his official residence in Tokyo on Thursday, agreeing to normalize relations between the two countries, and to restart reciprocal visits between the two countries' leaders, known as "shuttle diplomacy", which had been suspended for nearly 12 years.

On the same day of the meeting between the two leaders, South Korea's Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) said Japan decided to lift restrictions on exports to South Korea of three key semiconductor materials, including high-purity hydrogen fluoride (HF), fluorinated polyimide and resist.

Accordingly, South Korea withdrew its earlier complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Japan's export curbs grew out of 2018 rulings by South Korea's Supreme Court that two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, had to compensate South Korean victims who filed lawsuits for forced labor during World War II.

During its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, Japan forcibly conscripted large numbers of Korean laborers to work in the mines or shipyards of Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Japanese government has been claiming that the issue of compensation for WWII forced labor was settled in the 1965 treaty normalizing diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In a countermeasure following South Korea's plan to seize Japanese companies' assets in South Korea, the Japanese government began restricting exports to South Korea in July 2019 of high-purity hydrogen fluoride, fluorinated polyimide and resist, which are key materials for South Korea's semiconductor and display industries.

On March 4, there was news that the Japanese government intended to lift the export restrictions in exchange for South Korea withdrawing its complaint to WTO.

On March 6, the South Korean government announced that it would compensate 15 Korean victims who won their cases in 2018 through a public fund backed by local companies.

In an effort to ease relations between the two countries, South Korea has introduced a new program to resolve its dispute with Japan over the forced labor cases, in a change from its previous hard-line approach of demanding compensation from Japanese companies.

Now, with the agreement on normalization of relations between Japan and South Korea, the semiconductor trade between the two countries is gradually returning to normal.

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