• Kyodo

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A senior official at the Foreign Ministry plans a visit to South Korea soon as bilateral ties have sunk to a historic low over a wartime labor row, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

Shigeki Takizaki, the head of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, is hoping to travel to the neighboring country as early as Wednesday to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Jung-han, with wartime labor issues likely to be on the agenda in addition to responses to the coronavirus pandemic, the sources said.

It would be the first formal face-to-face working-level talks between Tokyo and Seoul since the launch of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration in September.

Relations between the two countries have slumped following a decision by a South Korean top court in October 2018, ordering a Japanese company to pay four men for forced labor during the 1910-1945 period of Japanese colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan argues the ruling goes against a 1965 bilateral agreement that provided South Korea with financial aid with the understanding the compensation issue was settled “completely and finally.”

Nippon Steel Corp.’s South Korean assets have been seized and are going through a liquidation process, an outcome that Tokyo has warned would do irreparable damage to relations with Seoul.

Takizaki is expected to urge South Korea to take proper measures to resolve the row, including guarantees that the assets would not be sold off, the sources said.

If a resolution is not reached, Suga will not attend a trilateral summit between Japan, South Korea and China to be hosted by Seoul, the sources added.

For its part, South Korea is expected to urge Japan to lift tightened export controls imposed on the country for materials used in the manufacture of semiconductors, a move seen as retaliation.

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