Dozens of South Korean small-business owners rallied in South Korea’s capital on Monday calling for boycotts of Japanese consumer goods to protest Tokyo’s move to tighten high-tech exports to its neighbour.
Kim Sung-min, president of the Korea Mart Association, urged shop owners to boycott the distribution of Japanese products until Tokyo apologizes over the trade curbs and withdraws them. Other demonstrators held up signs that read, “Our supermarket does not sell Japanese products.”
South Korea is concerned that the strengthened Japanese export controls of photoresists and other sensitive materials that are mainly used for manufacturing semiconductors and display screens could potentially hurt its export-dependent economy.
Japan’s measure, which went into effect earlier this month, has stoked public anger in South Korea, where many believe Japan still hasn’t fully acknowledged responsibility for atrocities committed during its colonial occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Thousands of South Koreans have signed petitions posted by citizens on the presidential office’s websites that called for boycotts of Japanese products and travel to Japan and for South Korea to skip next year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics. Retailers have also reported modest drops in the sales of Japanese beer.
“We will continue boycotting the consumption and distribution of Japanese products until Japan’s government and the Abe administration apologizes and withdraws its economic retaliation,” Kim said, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Tokyo says the materials affected by the export controls can be sent only to trustworthy trading partners. Without presenting specific examples, Tokyo has questioned Seoul’s credibility in controlling the exports of arms and dual-use items that can be used both for civilian and military purposes.
South Korea says its export controls are working just fine and that Japan is retaliating against South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate aging South Korean victims for forced labour during World War II.
South Korea plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization and will raise the issue at next week’s WTO General Council in Geneva, the country’s trade ministry said Sunday.
Last week, South Korea’s presidential office proposed an investigation by the United Nations Security Council or another international body to look into the export controls of both South Korea and Tokyo as it continues to reject Japanese claims that the South could not be trusted to faithfully implement sanctions against North Korea.