TOKYO -- Japan's trade ministry said Friday that it has eased controls on exports to South Korea of one of three chemicals used in semiconductors that it had restricted, a sign of a thaw between the two countries just days before their leaders meet in China.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said it is granting a three-year bulk permit to one company for exports of photoresist, a chemical used to make semiconductors, to its business partner in South Korea.
The ministry said the step, which takes effect immediately, reflects the good record between the two companies. The ministry denied that it had anything to do with the upcoming meeting between the leaders of the two countries as part of a three-way summit hosted by China next week.
Ties between Japan and South Korea have plunged to their lowest level in decades since July, when Japan stepped up export controls against South Korea, citing a loss of trust and security concerns.
The move was seen as Japanese retaliation for South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to compensate elderly former Korean laborers for abusive treatment during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The Japanese move triggered a series of retaliatory measures by South Korea, risking an intelligence information sharing pact.
The two sides struck a fragile truce in November following intervention by Washington to save the intelligence pact, a symbol of their three-way security cooperation in the face of increased threats from North Korea and China.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are to hold a one-on-one meeting on Christmas eve on the sidelines of the trilateral summit.