Japan, Korea raise stakes in dispute over forced labour

11-Jul-2019 Intellasia | Reuters | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Japan and South Korea raised the stakes on Tuesday in a dispute that threatens to disrupt global supplies of smartphones and chips, with South Korea denouncing Japanese reports it had transferred a sensitive chemical to North Korea.

At the root of the diplomatic row between the two US allies is compensation demanded by Seoul for South Koreans forced to work for Japanese firms during World War Two.

It worsened last week when Japan said it would tighten curbs on exports of three materials crucial for advanced consumer electronics because trust with South Korea had been broken over the forced labour dispute.

The restrictions on exports of the material to South Korea could hit tech giants, such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) and SK Hynix Inc (000660.KS), that supply chips to the likes of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL].

It also underscores Japan’s grip on a vital link in the global supply chain that prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government is using as leverage, days before a parliamentary election.

In some of the sharpest comments yet, South Korean Industry minister Sung Yun-mo urged Japan to “stop making groundless claims immediately”, an apparent response to a Japanese media report last week.

It quoted an unidentified senior member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) as saying some hydrogen fluoride exported to South Korea had ultimately been shipped to North Korea.

Hydrogen fluoride, a chemical covered by the Japanese export curbs, can be used in chemical weapons. Japan has said it has seen “inappropriate instances” of South Korea’s export controls, but has not elaborated.

Asked about countermeasures, Sung said South Korea was reviewing “every possible plan”, but gave no details. The neighbours plan to hold talks on Friday, he added.


The dispute stems from Japan’s frustration over what it sees as South Korea’s failure to act in response to a ruling by one of its courts last October ordering Japan’s Nippon Steel Corp (5401.T) to compensate former forced labourers.

Japan says the issue of forced labour was fully settled in 1965 when the neighbours restored diplomatic relations.

The countries share a bitter history dating to Japan’s colonisation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, which saw forced use of labour by Japanese companies and the use of “comfort women”, a Japanese euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.

The United States has been dismayed by the dispute and its new senior diplomat for East Asia, David Stilwell, will visit both countries on his first trip to the region this month.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department said it was “critical to ensure strong and close relationships between and among our three countries in the face of shared regional challenges” including that posed by North Korea.

She said all UN member states were required to carry out sanctions resolutions and added: “The United States and South Korea coordinate closely on our efforts related to (North Korea), and we mutually work to ensure that UN sanctions are fully implemented.”


Category: Korea

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