National / Politics

Japan and South Korea talks end without progress on wartime labor dispute

Kyodo

Senior Japanese and South Korean officials failed to bridge differences in talks Thursday over the thorny issue of compensation by Japanese firms for wartime labor.

In the working-level consultations in Seoul, Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Foreign Ministry told reporters he called again for measures from the South Korean side to ensure that accused companies are not harmed.

He also said he requested anew that intergovernmental talks be held based on an agreement attached to a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between the two countries.

His South Korean counterpart Kim Yong-kil gave no specific reply to either request, according to Kanasugi.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said it is not appropriate for countermeasures to be mulled by the Japanese side in relation to the issue, apparently referring to recent comments by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Aso said Tuesday that Japan could ban new visa issuances and money transfers as retaliatory steps if South Korea goes ahead with the seizure of assets of a Japanese company over wartime labor.

The comments come after a South Korean court approved the seizure of assets from Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate Koreans for conscripted labor during World War II.

In Thursday’s talks, Kanasugi said he stressed that Tokyo is considering all options, such as referring the case to the International Court of Justice and taking “countermeasures,” if Seoul goes ahead with the sale of the firm’s assets.

As the next stage in resolving the dispute, the Japanese side is considering calling for the establishment of an arbitration panel including members from a third country.

The two sides did agree to continue bilateral communication even if there is conflict and to try to avoid further confrontation.

In October, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered the Japanese steel-maker to compensate four men for forced labor during Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

A request for seizing Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.’s assets has also been filed with the Seoul Central District Court after the top court ordered the Japanese heavy-machinery-maker to compensate for wartime labor in a similar case.

A team of lawyers representing South Korean plaintiffs who won the wartime labor case against Mitsubishi Heavy is considering seeking a seizure of the company’s assets in Europe.

Japan maintains that the issue has already been resolved “finally and completely” under a 1965 accord between the two countries to settle property claims signed alongside the Japan-South Korea treaty that established diplomatic ties.

But the South Korean top court said the right of individuals to claim damages was not terminated by the accord, when it handed down the ruling against the steel-maker.

Tokyo proposed launching talks based on the agreement and is awaiting Seoul’s response.