South Korea said Wednesday it will file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan’s tighter export controls on raw materials used in making computer chips and displays, in the latest escalation between the two East Asian neighbors.
Japan imposed export controls in early July targeting three essential chemicals used in products produced by South Korean tech giants such as Samsung and LG. Tokyo said the move was due to a “loss of trust” in relations with Seoul, but also accused South Korea of improperly handling exports of sensitive materials from Japan.
South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said Wednesday Tokyo’s export restrictions were “politically motivated” and linked them to a South Korean court ruling calling for Japanese companies to pay reparations to South Koreans forced into labor camps during World War II.
“Targeting South Korea is … in violation of WTO’s principles banning discriminatory practice,” Yoo said at a press conference in Seoul. “It was a discriminatory measure that directly targets only our country.”
As a first step, South Korea will request a bilateral consultation with Japan at the WTO demanding Tokyo withdraw the trade restrictions. If the consultations do not resolve the issues, South Korea will request a WTO panel ruling on the cases.
The two countries have been embroiled in an ongoing economic and diplomatic spat that has seen both sides remove each other from their status as trusted trading partners and prompted South Korea not to renew a military intelligence sharing pact.
The dispute comes at a time when both South Korea and Japan are facing mutual challenges, including a more powerful China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.