TOKYO -- The removal of South Korea from a Japanese whitelist of preferred trading partners took effect on Wednesday local time, a step that has elicited a strong backlash from Seoul.
The action represents the second round of trade restrictions Japan put into force against South Korea. Hiroshige Seko, Japan's minister of economy, trade and industry, downplayed the effect this move will have on bilateral ties when he spoke with reporters Tuesday following a cabinet meeting.
"This is for the purpose of executing export oversight in an appropriate manner, and any impact on Japan-South Korean relations is not part of the consideration," Seko said.
The removal, which was approved by Japan's cabinet on Aug. 2, comes shortly after Seoul decided Thursday to stop sharing intelligence with Tokyo under the General Security of Military Information Agreement.
South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon told his country's lawmakers Monday that the government would be willing to consider extending the pact, which expires in November, if Japan withdraws the trade restrictions, Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seko rejected that overture outright, saying that he could not understand why the trade and military intelligence issues would be connected.
The whitelist of nations, now called Group A countries by Japan, exempts members from additional export procedures for all products. The list encompasses 26 countries apart from South Korea, including the U.S. and U.K.
South Korea joined the whitelist in 2004, but has been demoted for the first time to a list of Group B trading counterparts.
This designation gives the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry the authority to screen shipments for nearly all products, excluding those posing minimal risk for military application such as lumber and food items. Group A countries are immune from these "catch-all" controls.
Tokyo first announced in July that it would restrict exports of photoresists, hydrogen fluoride and fluorinated polyimides to South Korea. Each of the three semiconductor production materials is required to undergo a separate screening process for each shipment. Designating South Korea as a Group B trading partner risks creating a bottleneck for certain Japanese exports due to the extra paperwork.