After yet another rally this weekend condemning Japan for its escalating trade dispute with South Korea, residents of the Seoul neighborhood that serves as home to the nation’s presidential office are organizing an event to protest the “endless protests” they have endured since 2016.
Residents say the protests first began as scandal engulfed the administration of former President Park Geun-hye, currently serving a 25-year sentence for illegally including the daughter of a cult leader in government activities. South Korea’s Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on an appeal on her sentence this week.
Since the 2016 protests, South Koreans have gathered around the Cheong Wa Dae (“Blue House”) to protest numerous policies of the current President Moon Jae-in, including attempts to strengthen ties with North Korea and to break ties with Japan. South Koreans protested the “unity” teams of the Winter Olympics with North Korea in 2018 and, more recently, turned their ire towards not just Japan’s policy, but Japan itself, which many in Seoul believe has been insufficiently apologetic about forcing an untold number of Korean women into sex slavery during World War II.
Moon’s efforts to hold Japan accountable — namely, the dissolution of a foundation that Japan funded to aid the families of its victims, the “comfort women,” in November — have triggered economic retribution from Tokyo and a boycott campaign against Japan at home. This Saturday, a coalition of 700 South Korean civil society groups organized a rally in Seoul “to condemn Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and welcome South Korea’s decision to scrap a military information sharing deal with Japan,” Moon’s latest salvo in the ongoing dispute.
The rally, Korean broadcaster KBS reported, was the sixth such assembly the 700 groups had organized so far.
Organizers said 5,000 people attended the rally and candlelight vigil.
Elsewhere in Seoul, Park Geun-hye’s party, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), organized a rally against Moon this weekend, alleging that he had nominated a corrupt, scandal-engulfed official as his justice minister and condemning the end of the intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.
Park Geun-hye led the charge to sign the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which South Korea dissolved on Thursday.
“The government deemed that Japan caused grave change in the bilateral security cooperation environment by excluding the country from Export Trade Control Order (so-called ‘whitelist’) on Aug. 2 without citing clear evidence, saying that security-related issues have occurred from damaged trust between Korea and Japan,” Kim You-geun, deputy chief of Cheong Wa Dae’s national security office, said last week. “Under such circumstances, the government decided that it does not coincide with our national interest to maintain the agreement that was signed to exchange sensitive military information.”
Park’s government and LKP supporters believe the national security agreement was necessary in light of the persistent threat of a military attack from North Korea.
The protest that will follow this weekend’s dueling rallies will be a protest against rallies.
“It is difficult to live around here as there is continuous chanting using loudspeakers late at night and early in the morning,” an unnamed member of a local residential committee told the Korea Herald in an article published Sunday. “There is freedom of protest so we can’t stop them, but for the sake of the residents we will hold a silent vigil to make our hardships known.”
“I have lived here for over 40 years, but recently there have been endless protests that makes me want to move. Traffic is restricted during the weekend due to the protests, so it is difficult to go elsewhere,” another unnamed resident told the newspaper. A third complained that the loudspeakers common at protests regularly interrupted their child’s sleeping.
The committee has scheduled their “silent vigil” for 9:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday and will feature a march down the streets urging protesters not to use loudspeakers or otherwise create noise pollution at all hours.
“But since November 2016, right before the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, the nation allowed protests to be held up to 100 meters from the presidential office, so it has been surrounded by protesters ever since,” a statement from the committee read.
The Korea Herald notes that the protesters attempted a similar silent vigil calling for limited protests in 2017 but to no avail.
Protests against Japan escalated this month as South Korea observed “Liberation Day,” the holiday celebrating the end of Japanese imperial control of Korea following Tokyo’s loss in World War II. Some protests on August 15 featured calls to “kill” Moon Jae-in for not being sufficiently confrontational against Japan, though more commonly featured protesters demanding Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo personally apologize for the atrocities Japan committed during World War II.
Many South Koreans, including Moon, have expressed similar concerns about Abe, demanding his administration offer more compensation to its World War II victims. Abe insists that the project Japan launched for the “comfort women” in 2015 offered sufficient reparations to the victims and, in response to Moon shutting it down, his government removed South Korea from a preferred trade list. Moon’s government called the move a “public humiliation,” and Moon himself vowed, “we won’t be defeated by Japan again.”
South Koreans launched nationwide boycotts of Japanese beer, food, music, cars, and other common imports, in some cases resulting in Korean gasoline stations refusing to sell to Japanese cars, stranding their owners. Seoul also cut Tokyo’s special economic status in the country.