SEOUL, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- Japan has allowed the first shipment of a sensitive material used in high-tech manufacturing to South Korea under a controversial set of tightened export controls, officials from both countries announced Thursday.
Japan's trade ministry permitted the shipment of extreme ultraviolet photoresist, a key material used in manufacturing semiconductors, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said Thursday at a government meeting, news agency Yonhap reported.
The material is one of three items that Japan placed under restrictions at the beginning of July, requiring exporters to apply for approval before shipping to South Korea. The move set off a diplomatic firestorm that has taken the relationship between the countries to its lowest point in decades.
Tokyo cited security concerns as the reason for the heightened controls, but Seoul views the move as retaliation for an ongoing dispute over forced labor during Japan's 1910-45 colonial occupation.
Japan's Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko announced the decision to allow the exports on Thursday and dismissed South Korean criticism as "unfair," Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported.
"We don't usually disclose our decision," Seko said. "But we made an exception this time because the South Korean government is unfairly criticizing us for implementing an export ban."
The screening process for exporting the restricted items was announced to take up to 90 days, but this shipment was released in just over a month. It is unclear why the approval was expedited or whether it represents an attempt to thaw the diplomatic standoff.
Japan took the economic row a step further last week when it removed South Korea from a "white list" of preferred trading partners. A much wider range of items will be subject to tightened export controls when the decision goes into effect on Aug. 28.
South Korean officials have accused Japan of waging a "full-scale economic war" and have vowed to take retaliatory measures.
Seoul announced that it would remove Japan from its own trading partner white list and warned that it would have to review bilateral security cooperation frameworks. South Korean consumers and businesses have also responded with a large and growing boycott of Japanese products and a dramatic reduction in travel to the country.
On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the trade dispute is damaging both sides, calling any benefits Japan may gain "temporary."
"Eventually everyone, including Japan itself, becomes a victim," he said at a meeting of the presidential National Economic Advisory Council. "There is no winner."