The first sign of some easing of tensions between Japan and South Korea. The
backstory really goes back hundreds of years, but the most recent tit-for-tat
started with a South Korean court ruling last year that ordered Japanese
companies to pay compensation for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule.
The problem is, this was supposedly settled with a 1965 pact which restored
their diplmatic relationship. This could open the door for billions of dollars
being paid to South Koreans. It also means that South Korea might sieze money
from Japanese companies operating in South Korea.
So Japan responded with this restriction on exporting these chemicals that are
essential to high-tech manufacturing in South Korea. Of course Japan cannot
claim its in retaliation (that would be a trade violation, which is exactly
what South Korea is claiming to the WTO) but instead claimed it was because
South Korea was violating trade sanctions with North Korea.
These two countries really have been uneasy partners for a long time, and it is
really sad to see this breakdown in their relationship. I really hope they can
find some amicable way to move back towards cooperation.