S. Korean man kills himself as dispute with Japan escalates

Daniel Fowler
July 19, 2019

The dispute took a tragic turn earlier on Friday when a South Korean man set himself on fire in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in an apparent protest and later died from his injuries. Tokyo has strongly protested the rulings, arguing that all reparation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty the two countries signed when they normalized diplomatic relations.

The case can not go to trial, however, without agreement from South Korea, Kyodo news agency reported.

The two diplomats exchanged testy remarks in front of reporters, with Kono interrupting when Nam said South Korea had already proposed a plan to resolve the issue.

In retaliation, Tokyo slapped export restrictions on the South early this month, and could take additional retaliatory measures, such as removing South Korea from a so-called whitelist of countries given preferential treatment in trade procedures.

The row appears to have spilled over into Japan and South Korea's trade in high-tech materials used to make memory chips and screens.

"It is problematic that Seoul is leaving the situation of violating the global law as it stands", he said.

Kim's family told investigators that his father-in-law had been conscripted as a forced laborer when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910-45, according to a police statement. "It is extremely impertinent to propose it again by pretending to not know that".

Kono summoned Nam on Friday, a day after the passing of a deadline set by Japan for South Korea to accept third-country arbitration on the forced labour dispute.

An official of South Korea's foreign ministry told Reuters it had expressed regret over Kono's "rude" attitude. Some activists and residents in South Korea are staging anti-Japan demonstrations and campaigns to boycott Japanese products, but those have been limited so far.

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South Korea denied that and responded by suggesting Japan had been lax in abiding by worldwide sanctions against North Korea.

South Korea's Samsung Electronics has sent letters to partners urging them to stockpile more Japanese components in case Tokyo expands its export restrictions.

The Blue House said Japan's claims that South Korea is violating worldwide law are "simply wrong" and urged Tokyo to "withdraw unjustified export restriction measures and refrain from comments and measures that could further exacerbate the situation".

South Korea could not ignore its Supreme Court ruling ordering compensation, he said.

The 78-year-old man, surnamed Kim, drove up to the building around 3:20 am, stopped in front of the gate and set fire to the vehicle while sitting in it, an official at Seoul's Jongno Fire Station said. He later died after being treated in hospital, officials say.

Police declined to comment, saying they were investigating.

"On Friday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono summoned South Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo and lodged a complaint, calling Seoul's rejection of Tokyo's demand for an arbitration panel "very regrettable".

South Korean trade official Lee Ho-hyeon said Japan's plan to drop South Korea from its "white list" of countries with minimum trade restrictions would have major implications for global supply chains.

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