(ATTN: RECASTS dateline, headline, lead; UPDATES with details in paras 4-6; ADDS photo)
TOKYO/SEOUL, Aug. 8 (Yonhap) -- Japan said Thursday that it has approved the first export of a key semiconductor material to South Korea since it tightened related restrictions last month.
Japan's trade ministry said it has permitted the shipment of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) photoresist, one of first three items affected by Tokyo's retaliatory trade measure against Seoul. Its decision was based on a review that concluded that the shipment of the material posed no national security risk.
Industry officials in Seoul said Samsung Electronics Co. had applied for approval of photoresist used in its EUV fabrication line, in which the world's largest memory chip maker has a competitive edge.
"Samsung asked for the photoresist for EUV approved by the Japanese government, but it hasn't been delivered to the production line yet," an industry source familiar with the matter in Seoul said.
Once the chemical arrives here, Samsung is expected to use it in its fab line in Hwaseong, south of Seoul, the source said. The company plans to complete the construction of a new line at the site in the second half to ramp up EUV-based production from next year.
Two other materials crucial in chipmaking and digital screen production -- fluorinated polyimides and hydrogen fluoride -- are also subject to such case-by-case inspections for exports to South Korean firms under the measure, which Japan introduced on July 4, citing concern about the materials being transferred to a third country for military use.
The motive for Japan's approval of the shipment remains unclear. Confronted with growing criticism from the international community for using trade as a tool for political gains, Japan may be seeking to give an impression that it's not banning trade with South Korea itself, observers said.
Lee described Japan's export restrictions as "unjustifiable." He reaffirmed the government's full efforts to resolve the trade conflict diplomatically.
On Wednesday, Japan promulgated its last week's decision to remove South Korea from a list of trusted trading partners, a follow-up to its July 4 imposition of export curbs of high-tech materials. It did not impose additional export curbs against Seoul.
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