Seoul vows to protect Korean businesses from ‘unfair treatment’ under pressure from Japan

Science Minister Lee Jong-ho speaks at a press conference in Sejong on May 8.

Science Minister Lee Jong-ho speaks at a press conference in Sejong on May 8.

Korea’s science minister said Wednesday that the government will continue efforts to protect domestic companies from “unfair treatment” in overseas markets, due to pressure from Japan on tech giant Naver following the last year’s data breach incident.

“Regarding Japan’s administrative guidelines for LY, we have held close consultations with Naver to support its decision as much as possible,” Science Minister Lee Jong-ho told reporters at a news conference.

“The Ministry of Science and ICT will prioritize supporting our companies’ overseas operations and investments to avoid unfair treatment,” Lee said.

But Lee said the government was taking a cautious approach because Naver was involved “in a matter concerning national interests.”

Earlier this year, Japan’s Ministry of the Interior and Communications issued administrative guidelines to LY regarding the data leak, urging it to reduce its capital dependence on Naver.

LY, the operator of Line, Japan’s leading mobile messaging and Internet portal Yahoo Japan, is controlled by A Holdings, a 50/50 joint venture between Naver and Japan’s SoftBank Group.

Japan’s actions have drawn criticism in Korea, with many seeing them as an attempt to diminish foreign influence over the country’s widely used online platform.

Line, developed by Naver in 2011, had about 96 million users in Japan, or 78% of the country’s population, as of last year, according to Line Plus, the Naver subsidiary that operates the app in Korea.

Last week, Naver CEO Choi Soo-yeon said his company “has not yet determined its position on the issue,” calling the Japanese decision “very exceptional.”

“Rather than determining whether or not we should follow the guidelines, we view the issue as a decision that must be made based on our mid- to long-term business strategy, and we are still considering the issue,” Choi said.

Seoul’s Foreign Ministry also said it was in talks with Japan based on the position that there should be no discriminatory measures against the Korean company over the issue. (Yonhap)