South Korea asks Japan to cancel plan to remove the country from white list

Japan's national flag seen in front of containers and cranes at an industrial port in Tokyo. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea said on Wednesday (July 24) a Japanese plan to remove South Korea from a Japanese list of countries that face minimum trade restrictions would undermine their decades-old economic and security cooperation and threaten free trade.

Japan's planned revision of a law to take South Korea off its so-called white list comes amid a deepening row over compensation for wartime forced labour, and after Japan tightened curbs this month on exports to South Korea of high-tech materials used for making memory chips and display panels.

South Korea's industry ministry said in a statement Japan's removal of South Korea from the white list would be a very grave matter that would undermine the economic and security partnership between the two countries.

It asked Japan to scrap its plan, flagging concerns over wider disruptions of global supply chains involving South Korean chip and screen makers.

"It is a very grave matter that shakes the foundation of South Korea-Japan economic partnership and Northeast Asian security cooperation that has been maintained and developed for more than 60 years," Sung Yoon-mo, the South Korean industry minister, told a briefing.

"Removal of South Korea from the white list of countries is against international norms and we are worried about its serious negative impact on global value chains and free trade," Sung said.

Japan is due to decide on a revision of its list after canvassing public opinion, which is due to be done by Wednesday.

Japan has threatened to drop South Korea from the white list of countries that face minimum trade restrictions under a trade control law. That would require Japanese exporters to seek a licence for items that could be used in some weapons-related applications.

On Japan's white list are 27 countries, from Germany to South Korea, Britain and the United States.

Japan's top government spokesman said on Wednesday relations with South Korea were in a "very severe" state and
Japan would continue to urge South Korea to take appropriate action over a string of issues that have frayed ties.

South Korea's industry ministry had sent an e-mail including its request to shelve the plan to the Japanese government, a ministry official said.

US tech industry groups with members including Apple sent an open letter on Tuesday to Japan and South Korea calling for a quick resolution of their dispute.

"Non-transparent and unilateral changes in export control policies can cause supply chain disruptions, delays in shipments, and ultimately long-term harm to the companies that operate within and beyond your borders and the workers they employ," the business groups said in their letter.

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