Japan on Friday decided to tighten trade restrictions on South Korea further, removing it from a list of preferential treatment states. A measure perceived as a sanction by Seoul and which may further aggravate bilateral tensions. Japanese companies based in South Korea had their assets seized, with the Seoul Supreme Court founding them guilty of forcing Korean workers to work in their factories during the Second World War.
This provision will take effect on August 28, detailed in front of the press the Japanese Minister of Commerce and Industry, Hiroshige Seko.
Tokyo thus struck a new blow in Seoul with which there are various historical differences related to the colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula by Japan (1910-1945), which have poisoned their relations for ages. The new measure taken by Japan, perceived as a sanction by Seoul, may further aggravate bilateral tensions . Already this summer, this diplomatic scramble has caused the interruption of air links between the two countries and the cancellation of cultural events or school exchange programs. In Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, activists have even burst into the Japanese consulate.
Exceptional Council of Ministers this Friday
The South Korean government was quick to react. " We express our deep regret for the decision of the (Prime Minister) Abe's government, " said South Korean presidential spokeswoman Ko Min-jung. " Our government will respond severely to Japan's unfair decision ." An extraordinary cabinet meeting will be held Friday around President Moon Jae-in condemning the "irresponsible" decision of Tokyo.
For the Japanese authorities, " this is a revision of the list necessary for an appropriate management of the control of our exports for national security ", justified Mr. Seko, again denying that it is a sanction.
Threat to regional security
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said on Thursday night that the two countries have failed to find common ground on one of their historical disputes to avoid this write-off. The Japanese government is furious that South Korean courts are demanding that Japanese companies compensate South Korean citizens who were forced to work in their factories during the Japanese occupation until the end of the Second World War.
South Korean diplomat Kang Kyung-wha warned on Thursday that " the framework for security cooperation between South Korea and Japan could be affected " by the measures taken by Tokyo. In particular, she indicated that the renewal of a military intelligence sharing agreement could be compromised. Recall that Japan and South Korea are all allied with the United States, which depends largely on their security, especially in the face of the North Korean threat.
( With AFP )
► How do South Korean immigrants in Tokyo experience these tensions? RFI went to meet them.
With our correspondent in Tokyo , Bruno Duval
Should the Japanese war crimes of the last century still weigh on bilateral relations? In Shin Okubo, the Korean district of Tokyo, opinions are divided. As we explain these two young immigrants. " As a Korean, I think Japan should apologize for its warrior past," said the former . But obviously, many Japanese oppose such historical repentance ... "
" It's important to pass on the history of our two countries to the next generations," adds his comrade . However, in my opinion, in Japan as in South Korea, politicians should stop throwing oil on the fire, constantly insisting on what has divided us in the past .
► Also read: Forced labor, South Korean justice orders the seizure of assets Mitsubishi
Meanwhile, Korean traders, make gray mine. " It's not good for turnover, this climate. So, I would really like this tension to subside quickly and our two countries become friends again ", asks this shopkeeper
His colleague agrees: " The image of South Korea has deteriorated in Japan. In the long run, this could bring down our sales . "
Japanese products are increasingly boycotted in South Korea, but, this young Japanese, she is sitting with a smile in a Korean snack. " These political quarrels do not interest people, " she says.
Nevertheless, according to polls, seven out of ten Japanese support the firmness shown by their government on this issue.