• Kyodo

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Japan urged South Korea on Thursday to present a solution to a wartime labor row as their senior diplomats discussed frayed bilateral relations in person for the first time since a new government was launched in Japan, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Shigeki Takizaki, the head of the ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, warned his South Korean counterpart Kim Jung-han during talks in Seoul that a sell-off of a Japanese company's assets seized under a South Korean court ruling on wartime labor compensation must be avoided, as doing so would bring about an extremely serious situation, the ministry said.

The two officials, meeting for the first time since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office in September, agreed to continue dialogue over the matter, it said.

According to a South Korean Foreign Ministry statement, Kim stressed the need for the Japanese government and defendant companies "to show more sincerity to resolve the problem."

It said he also urged Tokyo to withdraw "unfair" export controls imposed on South Korea for materials used in the manufacture of semiconductors, a move seen as retaliation.

In connection with Japan's notification that Suga will not attend a Japan-China-South Korea summit in South Korea unless Seoul takes rectification measures, Kim urged the Japanese government to "actively respond to the Korean government's efforts to hold the trilateral summit within the year."

Relations between the two countries have slumped to a historic low following a decision by the top South Korean court in October 2018 ordering Nippon Steel Corp. 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 on the understanding the compensation issue was settled "completely and finally."

Nippon Steel's South Korean assets have been seized and are undergoing a liquidation process.

Despite Tokyo's repeated demands for a solution, the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in has said it respects the judicial decision and cannot intervene in a court ruling, such as asking for a delay in the liquidation process.

The officials agreed that as the bilateral relationship is in a difficult situation, exchanges at business and political levels are important, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Japan and South Korea resumed reciprocal business travel this month that had been suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the agreement, travelers on short-term business trips will not be required to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival if they test negative for the novel coronavirus and submit travel itineraries, among other preventive measures.

In a separate meeting in Seoul, Takizaki agreed with South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, Lee Do-hoon, to closely cooperate bilaterally and trilaterally with the United States in dealing with North Korea, the ministry said.

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