SEOUL – As a trade dispute rages between the Seoul and Tokyo, a district in the South Korean capital was forced to backtrack Tuesday within hours of starting to put up more than 1,000 anti-Japan banners.
Municipal workers had already begun hanging the banners from lampposts in Jung-gu, which includes the popular Myeong-dong shopping district and tourist destinations such as the Deoksugung Palace and the Namdaemun Market.
The Jung-gu authorities, however, announced that the banners would be taken down, and district head Seo Yang-ho apologized in a Facebook post, saying he “humbly accepted criticism that any boycott should remain on citizens’ voluntary basis.”
The banners featured the word “NO,” with the red disc of the Japanese flag as the “O,” and read: “I won’t go (to Japan), I will not buy (Japanese products).”
Analysts say politicians on both sides exploit the issues for domestic purposes, and some Seoul residents reacted angrily to the banners, saying they amounted to official peer pressure.
By Tuesday afternoon around 20,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition against them.
“This boycott should be done on an individual basis, not a government-orchestrated display of anti-Japan sentiment,” wrote one petitioner.
“Japanese tourists are not our enemies,” another added.
On Friday, Tokyo and Seoul removed each other from their “white lists” of trusted trading partners, following a series of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to pay compensation for forced labor during World War II.
Last month Tokyo had also unveiled tough restrictions on exports crucial to tech titans such as Samsung.
That sparked fury in the South, where almost seven in 10 people still report negative feelings toward Korea’s former colonial ruler, and led to public boycotts of Japanese goods including cars, beer, clothing and pens.