Moon Jae-in, president of ROK, speaks during a cabinet meeting at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, July 2, 2019. Moon has urged Japan to withdraw export controls on high-tech materials bound for South Korea as a row over forced wartime labour threatened to disrupt global supplies of South Korean memory chips and smartphones. (HAN SANG-KYUN / YONHAP VIA AP)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Japan to withdraw new restrictions on exports in his first public remarks on a dispute that erupted last week and has intensified animosity between the two countries.
Moon asked his Asian neighbor to “return to the principle of free trade that Japan has been pushing for” and said he would “take responsive measures” if South Korean companies were harmed by the new restrictions.
Moon also said on Monday a "vicious cycle" of action by the uneasy neighbours, both important US allies, was something both of them should avoid.
"The vicious cycle of actions and counteractions is not desirable at all for both countries," Moon told a meeting with his senior aides.
The president’s comments came as a new poll showed most Japanese approved of their government’s decision to tighten controls on exports to South Korea of key materials needed by its tech industry.
Some 58% of respondents to the survey carried out by the Japan News Network, or JNN, said they approved of the government’s policy, compared with 24% who did not.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday reiterated denials that the checks were a form of retaliation against South Korea for recent court rulings holding Japanese companies liable for cases of forced labor before and during World War II. Japanese officials have said the judgments damaged trust between the US allies and risked undermining the 1965 treaty that forms the basis of their relations.
While the stricter checks on three specialist materials -- which took effect Thursday -- don’t amount to a ban, exporters would be required to obtain a separate license each time they want to sell the materials to South Korea, causing delays. Japan is also considering removing South Korea from a list of trusted export markets, a move that could affect a broader swath of products.
South Korea scrambles
South Korea’s government and top electronics firms scrambled to tackle the situation. Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee traveled to Japan on Sunday to discuss the tighter controls with local business leaders, Yonhap News reported.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki held discussions on the “external economic situation” with the heads of top domestic companies over the weekend, President Moon Jae-in’s office said in a statement. Moon, who has not responded publicly to the measures, is set to meet industry leaders July 10, according to Yonhap.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will provide emergency funds to domestic companies affected by Japan’s export restrictions on South Korea’s crucial tech industry, Yonhap reported, citing Cho In-dong, an economic policy officer at the city’s office.
HONG KONG NEWS