National / Politics

Japan fires back after South Korea's Moon urges Tokyo to take a 'humble stance' on wartime labor issue

Kyodo

The government on Friday rebutted South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s accusation over Tokyo’s response to Seoul’s top court rulings on wartime labor involving Japanese companies.

“It is extremely regrettable that President Moon tried to shift South Korea’s responsibility to Japan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

Tokyo and Seoul have been engaged in an intensifying dispute since October, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four South Korean nationals for wartime labor, and handed a similar ruling to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. the following month.

The plaintiffs were recognized as having been forced to work during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The top government spokesman’s rebuttal came a day after Moon said at his New Year’s news conference that Japan’s “politicization” of the issue is “not a wise stance,” and urged Tokyo to take “a more humble stance.”

Earlier this week, Tokyo requested that Seoul launch talks as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal faced the imminent seizure of its assets in South Korea after refusing to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We believe South Korea will, as a matter of course, comply with our request with sincerity,” Suga said.

The request to launch intergovernmental talks on the top court’s ruling and ensuing developments is based on a bilateral accord to settle property claims signed alongside the 1965 Japan-South Korea treaty that established diplomatic ties.

Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” under the agreement.

“This state in breach of the pact was created by South Korea when last year’s Supreme Court rulings were finalized. It is South Korea that should take responsibility to address the situation,” Suga said.

Moon told reporters in Seoul on Thursday that the South Korean government must respect judicial decisions as a matter of the separation of powers among the three branches of government.