At around 3:30 in the morning on July 19, a 78-year-old South Korean man set himself on fire inside a car that parked in front of the Japanese Embassy.
Local police said the man with the surname Kim died during medical treatment at the hospital. In his car, police found a container of gasoline, butane gas, and other combustible materials.
Kim's action is allegedly done because of his anti-Japanese views. Tensions between the two countries that have occurred since the beginning of last month sparked this fatal incident.
Seoul and Tokyo relations have worsened since Japan tightened control over chemical exports, which are crucial for the South Korean industrial sector. The tightening took effect on July 4, 2019.
These essential chemicals are the primary material in manufacturing semiconductors and flat-panel screens. Both are the main export products from South Korea.
“These steps follow an export control system that is based on the World Trade Organization’s rules. It is not against free trade,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasutoshi Nishimura told Financial Times recently.
However, Seoul suspects that Tokyo did it as a retaliation for the South Korean Supreme Court’s decision. In late 2018, the highest court ordered Japanese companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries dan Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal, to compensate victims of forced labor.
During World War II, they were forced to ships and airplanes. The Japanese government was upset with the decision and insisted that the compensation issue had been resolved under the normalization agreement of relations between the two countries in 1965.
Japan-South Korea's bittersweet relationship has been going on for a long time. The dark history of the two countries is often the trigger. However, it felt different this time as it coincided with the US-China trade war.
Washington and Beijing reciprocated to raise the tariff war, even weakening the value of the yuan. Tokyo and Seoul disputes were no less fierce.
After doing the tightening, Japan removed South Korea from the white list of countries that received special trade treatment on August 2. This decision will take effect on 28 August.
Ten days later, South Korea responded by excluding Japan from partner countries that have special treatment in terms of trade. This decision takes effect on September 1. Korean people also are boycotting Japanese products, including Uniqlo, Muji, Daiso, and 7-Eleven.
The two countries agreed to hold negotiations in China on August 20-22, 2019. This conflict is expected to end soon.