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Japan allows further exports of high-tech material to South Korea: sources

SEOUL (Reuters) – Japan has approved shipments of a high-tech material to South Korea for the second time since imposing export curbs last month, two sources said, ahead of talks by government officials this week to resolve a dispute stemming from their wartime past.

Relations between the two U.S. allies worsened late last year as part of a decades-old row over compensation for forced laborers during Japan’s wartime occupation of South Korea.

In early July, Japan tightened controls on shipments to South Korea of three materials used in chips and displays, threatening to disrupt the global tech supply chain. Japan also announced a plan to remove South Korea’s fast-track export status from later this month.

The high-tech material cleared for Japan’s exports to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) in South Korea is photoresists, which are crucial for the tech giant’s advanced contract chipmaking production, the people who were familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

A Samsung Electronics spokeswoman and a South Korean trade ministry spokeswoman declined to comment. A Japanese official in charge of the issue was not available for comment.

An official at South Korea’s presidential office confirmed the exports at a briefing, but said that “uncertainties” will remain until Japan completely removes the tighter export controls it has instituted.

“Tokyo’s latest export approval is positive for the local industry, but I don’t see Japan’s move as a conciliatory message to South Korea,” another South Korean government official told Reuters, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Earlier this month, Japan gave the green light to the export of photoresists to Samsung Electronics for the first time since it imposed the restrictions.

Japan’s latest move comes ahead a meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, in Beijing on Wednesday.

The two ministers will also this week meet their Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in the first such trilateral gathering in three years, government officials said.

“We will have to actively express our position, but it is a very difficult (situation),” Kang said at an airport in Seoul on Tuesday before leaving for Beijing.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki in TOKYO; Editing by Stephen Coates and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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