South Korean boycott of Japanese goods hits beer and carmakers

Sales of Japanese beer and cars have plummeted in South Korea amid a consumer boycott sparked by a deepening dispute over the countries’ wartime legacy that has hit trade and security cooperation.

Japanese automakers said on Wednesday sales fell 57% in August from a year earlier, while beer sales were almost wiped out the same month with a year-on-year decline of more than 97%, according to reports.

Calls for South Koreans to boycott Japanese goods intensified in July after Tokyo placed restrictions on exports of semiconductor materials and display panels considered vital to South Korea’s technology industry.

That move was viewed as retaliation for a South Korean supreme court ruling last year calling on Japanese companies to pay compensation for their use of forced labour during Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula.

In August, Japan removed South Korea from its “white list” of preferred trading partners. In response, Seoul scrapped a military intelligence-sharing pact that some experts warned could harm the countries’ ability to counter North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear threat.

Japanese brewers such as Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo have held the largest share of South Korean imports since 2010, with sales reaching more than $73m (£60m) by last year, Bloomberg said.

Toyota’s sales in South Korea declined 59% to 542 in August from a year earlier, while Honda’s sales fell 81% to 138.

The diplomatic spat has hardened attitudes on both sides of the Japan Sea, known in South Korea as the East Sea, prompting calls for Seoul and Tokyo to reduce tensions.

The row has affected tourism and cultural ties, with Japanese and South Korean airlines scaling back services.

This week, the South Korean embassy in Tokyo said it had received a threatening letter, accompanied by a bullet. “I’ve got a rifle and I’m hunting Koreans,” the letter said, according to Kyodo news agency.

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