National / Politics

As ties sour over wartime issues, Foreign Minister Taro Kono urges South Korea to be fair to Japanese firms

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Friday urged South Korea to prevent Japanese firms from being treated unfairly following the launch of procedures to seize assets from Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. over its refusal to compensate for wartime forced labor.

After speaking by phone with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha, Taro Kono said Japan will take resolute action based on international law, if needed.

“I asked (the South Korean side) to take steps quickly so Japanese firms will not suffer from treatment that is unfair and disadvantageous,” Kono told reporters.

“We believe that South Korea will take appropriate action, so we will wait and see for the time being. But we want to make preparations in case we have to act resolutely based on international law,” Kono said without elaborating.

Bilateral ties have deteriorated in recent weeks over rulings made by South Korea’s Supreme Court ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for forced labor during the war, and the alleged directing of a fire-control radar at a Self-Defense Forces plane by a South Korean warship in the Sea of Japan on Dec. 20.

In the wartime labor case, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal had until Dec. 24 to respond to a request by lawyers for the South Korean plaintiffs to start talks on compensation. After the deadline passed, the lawyers said Wednesday they had launched a process to seize the steel-maker’s shares in Posco-Nippon Steel RHF Joint Venture (PNR), its strategic partnership with South Korean steelmaker Posco.

“We take (the request) very seriously,” Kono said after the phone talks, which were held at Kang’s request.

The Japanese government says the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” in an agreement attached to the 1965 treaty that normalized ties between Japan and South Korea. Tokyo has described the top court rulings in South Korea as being in breach of international law.

The South Korean top court said in recent rulings against two firms — Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. — that the right of anyone victimized by forced mobilization under Japan’s “illegal” colonial rule to seek compensation was not terminated by the bilateral accord.

The talks between the two ministers took place as Japan and South Korea remain at odds over the alleged radar incident.

“Minister Kang and I shared the view that defense authorities need to discuss the (radar) issue based on facts and resolve it at the earliest possible date,” Kono said.

South Korea on Friday released its own video of the radar incident and repeated its demand that Japan stop “distorting” the truth and apologize for a low-altitude flyby by one of its patrol planes.

The Japanese Defense Ministry released a video clip of the alleged radar lock-on incident on Dec. 28 to back up its claim that South Korea used the radar intentionally.

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