Japan has warned South Korea that it will take “countermeasures” if Seoul moves ahead with selling seized assets of a Japanese company that has refused to pay compensation in line with a ruling over wartime forced labor, diplomatic sources said Thursday.
Options apparently under discussion within Japan’s government include raising tariffs on South Korean imports and recalling Japan’s ambassador to Seoul, which would worsen bilateral ties already marred by disputes over the wartime labor issue and recent military incidents.
The Japanese government is expected to finalize its countermeasures soon. A 30-day deadline was set Friday for Seoul to respond on whether it will accept Tokyo’s request to launch bilateral consultations aimed at resolving the issue of the asset seizure. No response had been reported as of Friday evening.
According to the sources with knowledge of bilateral ties, Tokyo has told Seoul that it would have “no choice but to take countermeasures if Japanese companies suffer actual damage.”
The row follows a South Korean top court ruling in October that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
Tokyo maintains that the issue of compensation was settled under an agreement attached to the 1965 treaty that normalized ties between Japan and South Korea, and views the ruling as a breach.
The Japanese steel-maker has not followed the compensation order and was notified by a South Korean district court of the seizure of its assets on Jan. 9.
The court, however, has stopped short of ordering the sale of the assets as the South Korean plaintiffs are seeking to reach an out-of-court settlement.
During a series of director general-level meetings between the two countries’ foreign ministries in December and January, Japan apparently said any sale of the seized assets would go against the 1965 agreement and repeatedly warned of countermeasures.
Japan has also said that if South Korea ignores the pact, the bilateral relationship cannot be sustained, according to the sources.
Seoul does not seem to be budging over the dispute. A recent run of events, including a South Korean Navy vessel’s alleged lock-on of fire-control radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December, have heightened bilateral tension,.
According to a South Korean government source, Seoul has stressed to Tokyo that court judgments must be respected and has warned that any countermeasure by Japan would trigger “retaliation.”
If South Korea does not respond to Japan’s request to engage in bilateral consultations, Tokyo is considering calling for the establishment of an arbitration panel including members from a third country, in addition to what it refers to as the “countermeasures.”
Lawmakers of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party have intensified calls in recent weeks for government action against South Korea.
In November, the South Korean top court also ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay compensation for wartime forced labor.