SEOUL – South Korea lodged on Wednesday a complaint with the World Trade Organization over restrictions imposed by Japan this summer on exports to the neighboring country.
“South Korea decided to file a complaint with the WTO on Japan’s export curbs against the three vital materials for chips and displays,” Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said at a press conference.
Yoo described Tokyo’s decision as “a discriminatory act directly targeting South Korea, and it was politically motivated following our court rulings on the forced labor (of Korean workers during Japan’s colonial rule),” South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
Seoul’s move comes two months after Japan imposed restrictions on its export to South Korea of basic chemical products used to manufacture screens and memory chips of computers, servers, TV sets and smartphones.
Japan argues that the measure is a result of South Korea’s inadequate control of these products which make it possible for them to be used for military purposes.
However, Seoul believes that the measure is in response to the rulings in 2018 by several South Korean courts – including the Supreme Court – asking Japanese companies to pay compensation to Korean citizens who were forced to work for them during World War II.
Japan maintains that all compensation for victims enslaved by Japanese companies was settled during the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations.
In accordance with the treaty, Japan donated $300 million to the neighboring country. The compensation, however, did not reach the intended victims under the military dictatorship of Park Chung-hee, resulting in thousands of them suing the South Korean government this year.
Following South Korea’s Wednesday complaint, the two countries must maintain bilateral dialog over the next two months and if they fail to iron out their differences, the WTO will set up a panel to investigate the case.
Experts say the organization could take over three years to come to a conclusion.
On Aug. 28, Japan has also removed South Korea from its list of countries that benefit from trade privileges, an action which will not be included in the complaint, Yoo said.