SEOUL: A group of South Koreans took to the streets on Friday (Jul 5) calling for the boycott of Japanese products in response to the restrictions imposed by Japan on South Korean companies.
“We will stop buying and selling Japanese products,” the protesters chanted outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul on Friday morning.
The protesters were from the Korea Mart Association, which has about 100,000 members across the country.
Kim Sung-min, who heads the association, told CNA that its members would continue to boycott Japanese goods until Japan came to its senses and scrapped the restrictions.
"As a South Korean, I couldn’t just sit at home and do nothing,” said Kim, who also runs a supermarket in Seoul.
“Our supermarket has stopped selling Japanese products," he added.
This would hurt his profit, he admitted, but said it did not matter.
At the end of the rally, the protesters crushed several boxes bearing names of some Japanese brands being sold in South Korea.
A few blocks away, there was another rally happening.
This was organised by 18 different civic groups that were also demanding that Japan stop the restrictions imposed on South Korea.
They wanted Japan to apologise and face up to the atrocities it committed while Korea was under Japan’s colonial rule for 35 years from 1910.
“Down with the Abe Government,” these protesters chanted, clenching their fists up in the air.
Some held placards reading: “Comfort these victims. Compensate them.”
Relations between South Korea and Japan have been overshadowed for decades by historical disputes.
For many years it was over the issue of the so-called comfort women, who were rounded up by the Japanese army and forced to work as sex slaves.
More recently, tensions flared between the two governments over the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling last year on wartime forced labour.
The court had ordered Japanese companies to compensate the victims who filed lawsuits in South Korea.
Japan, however, argued that all compensation issues were settled in 1965 when both sides normalised diplomatic relations. Japan also said that it was under no obligation to make further payments.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the latest restrictions were not “an embargo” but a trade control for national security reasons.
The South Korean government disagreed and urged Japan to stop the action or it would have no choice but to take countermeasures.
Government officials said South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in could meet with business leaders next week to discuss Japan’s actions and how it will affect South Korea companies and the economy.
Meanwhile, nearly 27,000 people have signed a petition posted on the presidential website calling for a boycott of Japanese products and for Korean tourists to stop visiting Japan.
The presidential office must respond to any petition that gets 200,000 signatures within a month.
Analysts in Seoul said this move by Japan could backfire if it continues since Japanese companies supply most of the items to the global market.
“If Japanese companies cannot sell to South Korea, they too will suffer. In the long run, the Japanese economy will feel the impact,” said Yu Hwan-ig, a researcher at the Korea Economic Research Institute.
Analysts, however, said that what is more important now is for both countries to reach a compromise before it gets too late to mend fences.