A year after a South Korean Supreme Court ruling over wartime labor, the Japanese government has no intention of arranging a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in unless Seoul takes concrete steps toward sorting out the situation.
Wednesday is the first anniversary of the ruling, which ordered Nippon Steel Corp. to pay reparations to South Koreans whom it said were forced to work in the firm’s factories during Japanese colonial rule. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. was handed a similar order on Nov. 29.
Tokyo plans to continue urging Seoul to resolve the dispute by abiding by a 1965 bilateral pact on property and claims, which was signed along with a treaty to normalize the nations’ diplomatic relations. The South Korean side has not acted on the Japanese demand.
The 1965 pact stipulated that issues regarding wartime claims between the two countries had been completely and finally resolved.
“Our country’s stance is consistent and is not going to be changed,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on Tuesday, reaffirming the government’s position of not making any concessions to South Korea over the issue.
Japan claims that the ruling is a violation of international law and notes that under the 1965 agreement, Tokyo gave $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans, some of which Seoul used to settle claims over colonial rule.
Tokyo is keen to uphold the agreement due to concerns that making an exception for South Korea would open a Pandora’s box of similar claims from other countries. Japan has rejected a South Korean proposal that the wartime laborers be paid the amount ordered by the court using funds contributed from companies in both countries.
“We won’t pay a single yen,” a government source said. “If we do, that would mean accepting South Korea’s claims.”
In a letter to Abe, Moon has called on the two sides to settle pending bilateral issues. The letter was handed to Abe by South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon in Tokyo on Oct. 24 during Lee’s visit to attend Emperor Naruhito’s accession ceremony.
The South Korean side is hoping to set up a Moon-Abe meeting on the sidelines of a series of meetings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bangkok in the coming days or a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Nov. 16 and 17.
But Tokyo is cautious.
“If no progress is made at a summit between the two leaders, Japan-South Korea relations will truly come to an end,” a Foreign Ministry official said.
“It’s up to the South Korean side whether an environment for a bilateral summit can be created,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a news conference on Friday, indicating that Tokyo will keep a close watch on Seoul’s actions.
As South Korean consumers boycott Japanese products amid deteriorating bilateral ties, government data showed Wednesday that Japan’s beer shipments to South Korea plummeted 99.9 percent in September from a year earlier to ¥588,000.
The campaign to boycott Japanese goods, including vehicles, has spread widely among South Korean consumers after tighter Japanese export controls were implemented in July on key materials used by South Korean chipmakers.
In the reporting month, exports of hydrogen fluoride, a chemical subject to newly tightened export controls, were also sharply down 99.4 percent to ¥3.72 million, according to data compiled by the Finance Ministry.
The sharp drop in beer shipments in September followed a 92.2 percent plunge in August to ¥50 million.
Export volume and value of the chemical material used to clean semiconductors stood at zero in August, according to ministry data.
The material is one of three chemicals that Japan made subject to tightened export controls from July 4, requiring exporters to obtain a license prior to each shipment to South Korea.