Why did Japanese Prime Minister Abe impose controversial export restrictions after rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court on wartime forced laborers? This article answers this question through the lens of domestic symbolism in economic sanctions studies. We argue that domestic political calculations led the Japanese government to adopt hawkish measures against South Korea. Abe wanted to ensure continued support from his constituents and to win the upcoming election. A series of political reforms since the early 1990s have empowered the prime minister and made LDP politicians pay more attention to public opinion than to factional topography. Strong anti-Korean sentiment among the Japanese public reduced the leadership’s concerns about the audience costs of economic countermeasures. Through an examination of the interplay among various domestic actors over the policy measure, this study provides insights on how domestic symbolism can serve as an origin of foreign policy decision-making in democracies.

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