National / Politics

Abe orders Japanese ministries to prepare response to asset seizures in South Korea following ruling on forced labor case

Kyodo, JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has directed ministries to look into countermeasures after plaintiffs in South Korea took legal steps to seize the local assets of a Japanese steel-maker that has refused to comply with a court order to pay compensation for wartime forced labor.

“It is extremely regrettable. I directed related ministries to consider specific measures based on international law to show our resolute stance” in regard to the matter, Abe said in a TV program aired Sunday, although he did not elaborate.

Lawyers representing the South Korean plaintiffs have launched procedures to seize assets belonging to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. in the country, according to an official statement Wednesday. In response to the action, Foreign Minister Taro Kono urged Seoul to work to prevent Japanese companies from being treated unfairly.

The South Korean Supreme Court in October ordered the steel-maker to compensate four South Koreans who were victims of forced labor during Japanese colonial rule. The decision brought an immediate rebuke from Japan, which maintains that the right to seek compensation was terminated under a 1965 treaty signed between the two countries.

In another wartime forced labor case, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. faces a similar order by a South Korean court.

Meanwhile, Abe said during the NHK TV program that he believes a post-World War II peace treaty with Russia will benefit the United States by contributing to regional peace and stability.

“The Japan-U.S alliance is the basis of Japan’s diplomatic and security policies.”

Abe is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month.

Tokyo and Moscow have been unable to conclude a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities due to a long-standing territorial row over Russian-controlled islands off Hokkaido. The three islands and a group of islets, collectively known as the Northern Territories in Japan, were seized by the former Soviet Union at the end of the war.

Putin has expressed concern that U.S. military bases may be set up on the islands once they are handed back to Japan.

At their meeting in Singapore in November, Abe and Putin agreed to accelerate the peace treaty negotiations based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, which stipulated that two of the four islands—the Habomai group and Shikotan, as they are known in Japan, be handed back after the conclusion of a peace treaty.

Abe said there is no change in his intention to seek to revise Japan’s pacifist Constitution, but that setting a schedule for a first-ever change to the nation’s postwar supreme law is not a top priority. He had said earlier that he would seek to put constitutional amendments into force in 2020.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, said on the same TV program that a wide consensus from the ruling and opposition parties would be needed to pursue constitutional amendments.

Regarding national elections, Abe reiterated that he “is not considering at all” dissolving the Lower House and setting a subsequent general election to coincide with a triennial election for the Upper House, slated for this summer.

At the same time, Abe stressed that his administration “has been able to implement major reform measures … by (the LDP) winning five national elections,” including the 2012 Lower House election that led to the party’s comeback to power and his return to the post of prime minister.

On work to select the name of the country’s next era to succeed the current Heisei Era, Abe said that the government “hopes to choose a name that can be accepted widely by the public and can take deep root in the lives of Japanese people.”

The name of the next era is scheduled to be announced on April 1, ahead of Emperor Akihito’s abdication on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito’s enthronement on May 1, when the new era is slated to begin.