TOKYO -- Japanese officials said Friday they are pursuing procedures to downgrade South Korea's preferred nation status as Tokyo expands export controls over sensitive materials.
"As we have been saying all along, a planned removal of South Korea's 'white nation' status is an appropriate measure in order for Japan to effectively carry out export controls," Suga said.
On July 4, Japan began requiring case-by-case export licenses for exports to South Korea of three materials used in high-tech devices. Tokyo also announced plans to drop South Korea from its list of countries allowed preferential trade status, pending "public comments" and Cabinet approval.
Officials are studying opinions sent to the government during the "public comment" period that ended Wednesday, a required step that is largely a formality.
More than 10,000 opinions were submitted, including one from the South Korean government defending its export controls, the trade ministry officials said. They said the majority of the senders supported stripping South Korea of preferential status.
South Korea has strongly objected to Japan's tightening of the export policy, alleging Tokyo is using trade issues as a weapon to retaliate over court procedures demanding Japanese companies pay compensation to Korean victims of harsh wartime labor. South Korea also says the curbs are unnecessary, one-sided and harmful to free trade.
The trade flap is an extra irritant in the troubled relationship between the two neighbors, which has long been strained by antagonisms left over from Japan's brutal colonialization of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945.