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S Korean leader urges Japan to withdraw export restrictions

Moon says will "take responsive measures" if S Korean firms harmed by new restrictions on specialised products

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Mr Moon asked his Asian neighbour to "return to the principle of free trade that Japan has been pushing for" even as Japan is also considering removing South Korea from a list of trusted export markets.

Seoul

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.

Mr Moon asked his Asian neighbour 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.

The president's comments came as a new poll showed that most Japanese approved of their government's decision to tighten controls on exports to South Korea of key materials needed by its tech industry.

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Some 58 per cent 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 per cent who did not.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government slapped export restrictions on three highly specialised products needed to make semiconductors and computer displays. While the stricter checks on three specialist materials - which took effect on Thursday - don't amount to a ban, exporters would be required to obtain a separate licence each time they want to sell the materials to South Korea, causing delays.

One of the materials targeted is fluorinated polyimide, a synthetic resin that's used as a substrate in flexible organic light-emitting-diode screens. The other two are resist polymers and hydrogen fluoride, which are used to imprint and etch chip circuits on silicon wafers.

The move came after South Korean courts ruled that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans conscripted to work in factories and mines during the 1910-45 colonisation of the peninsula.

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's government and top electronics firms scrambled to tackle the situation. Samsung Electronics vice-chairman Jay Y Lee travelled 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. Mr Moon is set to meet industry leaders on 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.

Late last week, Nikkei had reported that Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to set up working-level briefings for their South Korean counterparts to explain export restrictions on some semiconductor and display materials that went into effect on July 4.

The goal of the talks is to show that the measures do not amount to an embargo and to preempt any legal challenge in the World Trade Organization, the newspaper reported, without saying where it obtained the information. Japan has no plan to remove the restrictions, it said. BLOOMBERG

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