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Japan tightens chip export controls

Japan on Friday announced plans to impose export controls on 23 items used in semiconductor production, following pressure from the United States for countries to restrict China’s access to the technology. The move came as Tokyo confirmed that its top diplomat would visit Beijing over the weekend, the first time in more than three years that a Japanese foreign minister has made such a trip.

China and Japan are two of the world’s largest economies and key trading partners. However, in recent years, their diplomatic ties have been strained due to Tokyo’s concern over Beijing’s growing military and economic power. The two nations are also divided in their approach to the Ukraine conflict, with Japan supporting Kiev while China seeks closer ties with Russia.

Friday’s announcement came after the Netherlands implemented similar restrictions earlier this month, citing “international and national security.” Although the Netherlands did not specifically mention China in its announcement, Beijing criticized the move.

Japan refused to categorize the rules as targeting a single country. Trade Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura stated that the controls were intended to “prevent military diversion of technologies” and that Japan “intends to play a responsible role in the international community” as a country with advanced memory chip technology.

However, Washington has made it clear that it wants its allies to join in limiting China’s access to this technology. Last October, the United States put in place export measures aimed at curbing China’s ability to acquire and produce high-end chips with military applications, including restrictions on some chips used in supercomputing and stricter requirements for the sale of semiconductor equipment.

The Japanese Ministry of Commerce will now seek public input on the measures, which are expected to take effect in July. Approximately ten major companies, including Tokyo Electron and Nikon, will be affected by the new restrictions, according to Jiji Press, citing unnamed government sources.

It should be noted that the chip measures come on the eve of a trip by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi to Beijing, where he will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart. Last November, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of a summit in Bangkok and pledged to maintain high-level contacts.

Despite political differences between the two nations, Kishida has repeatedly expressed support for Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion, and has offered assistance to Ukraine. Last year, his government announced a major security review, including plans to increase defense spending to two percent of GDP, and called China its “greatest strategic challenge.”

In conclusion, Japanese export controls on semiconductor-related items are part of a broader effort by the United States and its allies to restrict China’s access to technology with military applications. It remains to be seen how Beijing will respond to these latest developments, especially in light of the upcoming talks between Japan and top Chinese diplomats.