Calls grow in S. Korea for boycott of Japan amid row

SEOUL • Calls in South Korea for a boycott of Japanese goods in response to Tokyo's curbs on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea picked up yesterday amid a dispute over forced wartime labour.

It is the latest flashpoint in a relationship long overshadowed by South Korean resentment of Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945, particularly over the issue of South Korean "comfort women", a euphemism for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

In a 2015 deal, Japan apologised to the women and set up a 1 billion yen (S$12.5 million) fund to help them.

Advocacy groups for the women have criticised the fund, which South Korea dissolved yesterday despite Japan's objections.

"This is totally unacceptable for Japan. We've made stern representations to the South Korean side," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura said in Tokyo.

Japan said on Monday it would tighten limits on the export of high-tech materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea. The curbs took effect on Thursday.

Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix - the world's top memory chipmakers, and suppliers to Apple and China's Huawei Technologies - could face delays if curbs drag on.

Said Ms Choi Gae-yeon of activist group Movement for One Korea, which protested at a Japanese car showroom and a retailer in Seoul this week: "A boycott is the most immediate way for citizens to express their anger."

The row exploded last year when a South Korean court ordered Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to South Korean plaintiffs.

Japan asserts that the issue was settled when both countries restored diplomatic ties in 1965, and has decried the ruling as "unthinkable".

As of yesterday, nearly 27,000 people had signed a petition on South Korea's presidential office website calling for a boycott of Japan and its goods.

Some South Korean social media users posted "Boycott Japan" messages and shared a list of Japanese brands that could be targeted, such as Toyota Motor and Uniqlo.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2019, with the headline 'Calls grow in S. Korea for boycott of Japan amid row'. Print Edition | Subscribe