Staff at South Korean petrol stations are refusing to fill up Japanese cars amid a trade feud between the two countries.
Tokyo stripped Seoul of a favourable trading status earlier this month amid a row over World War II compensation, striking a blow to South Korea’s valuable high-tech industries.
The Koreans produce high-tech chips and smartphones but Japan fears that the chemicals used to make them could be converted for weapons.
The row has sparked anger in South Korea where sales of Japanese beer have plummeted and holidaymakers have cancelled trips to Japan, the Guardian reported.
Cinema-goers have also been urged to boycott Japanese films, including popular anime production Butt Detective The Movie.
According to the Korea Times, visitors to the Korea Oil Station Association’s website have urged gas stations to take similar action against Japanese cars.
Some service workers have refused to provide services for Japanese vehicles as a result.
One petrol station owner said he hoped the protest could ‘scare off those interested in buying Japanese cars’ and weaken Tokyo’s exports.
However, some Koreans have voiced concern about the impact of the protests.
‘The victim of the gas stations refusing to fill up Japanese cars isn’t the Japanese government but the car owners,’ one commentary said.
‘If people don’t use gas stations, the victim is not the Japanese government but the gas station owners.’
Seoul has argued that the Japanese measures were a politically motivated response to a South Korean High Court decision ordering Japanese firms that used forced labour during World War II to compensate victims.
The disagreement comes against the backdrop of decades of strained ties as the result of Japan’s brutal 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
Japan told the General Council, the WTO’s top negotiating forum, that it had no choice but to act.
‘Korea stated that the measure taken by Japan went against the free-trade system,’ the Japanese government said.
‘Free trade, however, does not mean allowing trade in sensitive goods and technologies that can be diverted to military use, without any controls or conditions,’ they argued.
Japan began stricter export checks on July 4, stripping South Korea of its ‘white’ nation status.
The new measures were expected to significantly slow the export of several key materials used by South Korea’s chip and smartphone giants.
Senior Japanese lawmakers from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party have suggested that some South Korean shipment may be reaching the North.
Trade minister Hiroshige Seko said today he will steadily pursue removal of South Korea’s preferred status as planned.
Earlier today, South Korea’s trade minister, Sung Yun-mo, demanded that Japan drop the plan, calling it baseless and one-sided.