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Korean cosmetics firm in hot water over video praising Japan in trade row

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SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean cosmestic firm, backed by Japan’s Nihon Kolmar, issued a public apology on Friday and its website remained down after its chairman showed employees a video praising Japan’s prime minister amid a bitter trade row between the two Asian nations.

Shares in Kolmar Korea <161890.KS>, whose clients include Unilever <ULVR.L>, fell 6.2% on Friday after a storm of online protest over the video, which the firm said later had been intended as training for employees on how not to react too emotionally to issues.

The two countries are locked in bitter trade and diplomatic rows over a South Korean court ruling late last year that ordered Japanese firms to compensate forced labourers during Japan’s occupation.

Japan warned on Thursday it could broaden export restrictions to South Korea beyond three chipmaking materials put under export control last month.

During staff meetings this week, Kolmar Korea chairman Yoon Dong-han played a YouTube video that criticised South Korean President Moon Jae-in and praised Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo and other local media.

The video by a right-wing political blogger included vulgar language and comments such as “Abe is definitely a great leader and President Moon Jae-in should be thankful for not getting punched by Abe in the face,” local media reported.

Kolmar Korea, which is 12.4% directly owned by Japanese cosmetics contract firm Nihon Kolmar, was the most searched word on South Korea’s dominant search engine Naver on Friday, and the reports drew angry comments from readers online.

A company spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment. Kolmar Korea’s website was down due to heavy traffic.

The company later issued a public apology.

“The purpose of showing this video was to underscore the importance of not reacting emotionally or being deceived, as in the biased content shown,” it said in a statement.

Kolmar Korea makes cosmetics for brands like Carver Korea, acquired by Unilever in 2017, and Innisfree, Amorepacific Corp’s <090430. KS> budget brand, according to a company filing.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Richard Pullin)

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