South Korean merchants trample boxes symboling Japanese products during a rally to denounce Japanese government's decision on export to South Korea, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 5, 2019. Tightened Japanese controls on exports of key materials used to make semiconductors and displays took effect Thursday, as South Korean officials vowed to fight back. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Korea and Japan’s Trade War

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In the streets of South Korea, signs that read “No Japan” are posted in every corner, as Korea has started to engage in a trade war against Japan. With the Korean public boycotting the consumption of Japanese products and travel to Japan, the international community is becoming increasingly wary of this conflict. 

The history of both nations extends back to World War II, in which Japan had colonized Korea from 1910 to1945. This historical event, along with the lack of apologies and reparations that Japan has provided, has developed a tense relationship between the two countries. The continuing anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, as many Koreans feel, is a result of the historical complexity and emotion that remain entangled with the two nations’ relationship today. 

Korea has recently taken measures to receive compensation from Japanese companies regarding the forced labor that was utilized during the occupation. As a result, Japan, who believed it has already compensated during past agreements, changed its trade laws regarding three chemical products commonly used in Korea; many Korean citizens were outraged. Japan passing such trade laws was specifically targetted to Korea as it caused the chemicals to be harder to import and receive a license for, greatly affecting the Korean electronic market. Japan furthered this act by removing Korea from its “white list,” a list of Japan’s trusted trade partners. Koreans accordingly boycotted Japanese products, and the Korean government removed Japan from its “white list,” a list of favored trade partners of Korea. The white list offers exemption from additional paperwork when exporting products. 

South Koreans also performed protests out on streets and extreme actions of devotion to this issue. In an extreme case, a man posted a video of himself destroying his Lexus, a Japanese made car, in response to the protests. Another man set himself on fire in front of the Japanese embassy, dying later that day. With such actions, many Korean citizens have shown their anti-Japanese beliefs. These beliefs and actions are ones of a rare minority, but many stem from the historical roots of the Japanese colonization. 

The protest has been somewhat successful as it has shown an effect in Japan. According to Reuters, Uniqlo has seen a 40% drop in sales, while brands like Toyota and Honda have seen more than 30% decrease. But these protests do not merely affect Japan, Korea’s brands have also taken a hit. With many products not selling supermarkets and Japanese food selling stores losing many customers, Korean business owners are also fearing the economic effects of this protest. 

The future of this issue does not seem bright for both nations. As the international economy continues to fail, this trade war may be one that carries more weight than it seems. The issue between Japan and Korea goes beyond merely a trade war but one that is deeply tied to the history between the nations. 

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