South Korean protesters hold up signs reading 'No Abe's government' during an anti-Japanese rally in central Seoul on August 13, 2019. Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-je

Starting from next month, South Korea will exclude Japan from a “white list” of preferential export destinations – a direct response to the same move made by Tokyo last week.

It was the latest move in a brewing trade war between the two countries. The trade measures both parties have taken are an escalation of long-running disputes over history and compensation for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Even so, in the run-up to the emotive Independence Day anniversary on August 14, Seoul seems to be refraining from a stronger reaction against the previously enacted Japanese measures.

It was also announced on Tuesday that South Korean military drills on and around the Dokdo islets, which had originally been scheduled for August 13-14, have been delayed to August 20 due to typhoons and ongoing South Korea-US military drills.

Dokdo, a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan, is garrisoned and administered by Seoul, but its ownership is disputed by Tokyo, which calls the islets Takeshima.

“The export control system of strategic materials should be operated in accordance with the principles of the international export control system,” said Trade, Industry and Energy Minister Sung Yun-mo on Monday. “It is necessary to operate an export control system considering the fact that it is difficult to closely cooperate with countries violating the principles of the international export control system,” he added, in an apparent reference to Japan.

The South Korean “white list” covers 1,735 goods including 597 “sensitive” items. The government did not specify items on the list, though memory chips and displays are believed to be highly important items for Japanese firms. 

Trade ministry officials would not be drawn on details. “The designation of individual export-licensing items was not what we had in mind, and we focused on improving the export control system,” Lee Ho-hyun, a director-general at the trade ministry, told Asia Times. “Japan designated certain items, but we don’t. So it is not appropriate to mention key items.”

South Korean companies have to get individual permits to export strategic goods to Japan. The number of documents submitted for different exports would be increased from two to five, but some applications would be exempted. In the case of individual export permits, the approval process would take 15 days – 10 days longer than the present five days.

That is still shorter than Japan’s 90-day approval process for three key semiconductor materials – a condition newly applied by Tokyo in July that ignited the current economic dispute and which Tokyo followed with its white list action last week.

Meanwhile, Trade Minister Sung said Seoul was ready for talks with Tokyo if they requested consultations during the implementation of the revised export regulations. 

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