A 72-year-old South Korean man is in critical condition after setting himself ablaze in central Seoul, apparently to express his anger towards Japan amid worsening tensions between the two countries over trade and wartime history.
An official from Seoul’s Jongno Police Station told The Associated Press news agency on Thursday that the man was being treated at a hospital in the South Korean capital for burns over his entire body.
Police at the scene found a bag containing a memo and leaflet criticising Japan over its decision to tighten controls on high-tech exports to South Korea and vowing to fight Tokyo until Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologises.
Also inside the bag was a book about the late Kim Bok-dong, one of the first victims to speak out and break decades of silence over the Japanese military’s sexual slavery during World War II, according to the police official, who did not want to be named, citing office rules.
The incident came a day before the Japanese government was widely expected to remove South Korea from a 27-country “whitelist” receiving preferential treatment in trade which, if carried out, is likely to aggravate the dispute that has sunk bilateral relations to their lowest point in decades.
Last month, a 78-year-old South Korean man died after self-immolating near the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Police said the man had phoned an acquaintance earlier to say he planned to set himself on fire to express his antipathy towards Japan.
The latest dispute between South Korea and Japan erupted last month when Tokyo tightened controls on the exports of photoresists and two other chemicals to South Korean companies that use them to produce semiconductors and display screens for smartphones and TVs.
South Korea’s removal from the Japanese preferential trade list could have a broader effect as it would require Japanese companies to apply for case-by-case approvals for exports to South Korea of hundreds of items deemed sensitive, not just the three materials affected by the trade curbs that took effect on July 4.
It will also allow Japanese authorities to restrict any export to South Korea if they believe there are security concerns.
South Korea’s presidential office said President Moon Jae-in discussed issues surrounding the Japanese export controls with cabinet ministers for more than two hours on Thursday but did not immediately reveal what was said.
Following a meeting with his Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Bangkok on Thursday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters Japan did not give a “firm answer” to South Korea’s demands that the country remain on Japan’s trade list.
Kang told reporters “there will be grave ramifications on bilateral relations” if South Korea is removed from Japan’s list.