The Japanese government has approved exports of liquid hydrogen fluoride, one of the three key semiconductor materials on which it imposed export controls this past July.
An official from the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy told the Hankyoreh over the phone on Nov. 17 that it had confirmed via industry sources that the Japanese government had issued approval for two export orders of liquid hydrogen fluoride.
The approval means that imports of liquid hydrogen fluoride are now possible, though still on a limited basis. This was the most tightly controlled of the three semiconductor materials, the other two being photoresist and fluorinated polyimide.
After announcing the export controls, Japan approved some exports of photoresist in early August, solid hydrogen fluoride in late August, and fluorinated polyimide in September. These materials are all critical, and indeed essential, to the production of semiconductors and displays.
Considering that the Japanese government had been rejecting a substantial number of orders for hydrogen fluoride placed by companies such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix since the export controls were announced, citing insufficient documentation, several theories have been raised about why Japan would have changed its position without any clear explanation.
The South Korean government has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) about Japan’s export controls, with a second round of bilateral deliberations between the two governments scheduled for Nov. 19.
Japan may have approved exports to avoid counterattack from Korea
Since Japan announced that exports orders would be reviewed within 90 days when it removed South Korea from its white list of countries (that enjoy streamlined review of exports of strategic materials) at the end of August, violating that principle without a valid reason could give South Korea a pretext to counterattack with export controls of its own. Thus, with the bilateral deliberations just around the corner, Japan may have approved the exports of liquid hydrogen fluoride in order to avoid such a counterattack.
If the two countries fail to make any progress that could sustain dialogue during their second round of deliberations, the matter will be passed to the expert panel that handles the main inquiry. That would cause serious damage to both countries’ industries for some time.
Other factors, such as South Korea’s much-debated decision to terminate its General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), appear to have also affected Japan’s decision to approve the export order.
“It’s fortunate that we’ve received export permits for all the key materials for semiconductor production. But since the two countries will have to resolve their political disputes before the export controls can be fully lifted, I guess we’ll have to keep an eye on the situation,” said a source in South Korea’s semiconductor industry.
*Original article online at http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/917459.html