Japan sought talks with South Korea on Wednesday after a local court approved a request to seize assets from a Japanese steel-maker operating in the country, following a ruling over wartime forced labor.
Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Lee Su-hoon to the Foreign Ministry and formally proposed the launch of consultations.
In Seoul, a spokesman for the office of President Moon Jae-in would only say that the South Korean government will disclose its position on the Japanese move once the prime minister’s office, which is in charge of the matter, prepares one.
On Tuesday, a South Korean court said it had approved a request to seize the local assets of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. for refusing to comply with an earlier court order to pay compensation to four South Koreans who were forced into labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean court decision on the asset seizure will be effective upon the delivery of a notice to a joint venture set up by Nippon Steel and South Korean steel-maker Posco.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the development as “extremely regrettable” and said that Tokyo “has taken the matter seriously.”
“The South Korean government has yet to take concrete steps despite Japan’s request to address the situation, which violates international law,” he said.
Tokyo maintains that the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” under a bilateral agreement to settle property claims signed alongside the 1965 Japan-South Korea basic relations treaty that established diplomatic ties.
Suga, who chaired the ministerial meeting, told government ministries and agencies to “closely cooperate with each other” in dealing with the issue, according to Ishii.
The bilateral agreement on settling property claims stipulates that any dispute regarding its interpretation and implementation shall be resolved, first of all, through diplomatic channels.
The talks, if realized, would be the first of their kind to be based on the agreement on settling property claims, according to Japanese officials.
Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Taro Kono urged South Korea to prevent Japanese firms from being treated unfairly, given Seoul’s move to seize assets.
Last Friday, Kono held telephone talks with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha and emphasized during the conversation that Japan will take resolute action based on international law, if needed.
“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 last Friday.
Bilateral ties between the two neighbors have rapidly deteriorated since the South Korean Supreme Court handed down the compensation order in late October.
Another similar ruling the following month ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to compensate two groups of South Koreans for similar reasons.
In late December, lawyers representing South Korean plaintiffs in the Nippon Steel case requested that the Pohang branch of the Daegu District Court, in the country’s southeast, seize the company’s shares in the joint venture.
In addition to the wartime history issues, Tokyo and Seoul also remain at odds over the alleged radar lock-on incident that took place last month.
Both Japan and South Korea have released their own videos of the radar incident. On Dec. 28, Japan’s Defense Ministry released its video, which recorded the conversations of the Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol plane’s crew, to back up its claim that South Korea used the radar intentionally.
Seoul’s version countered Tokyo’s claim, and South Korea repeated its demand that Japan stop “distorting” the truth and apologize for a low-altitude flyby by one of its patrol planes.