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Tokyo asks for arbitration on forced labor

Korean gov’t says it will ‘prudently review’ the request

May 21,2019
The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said it will “prudently review” a request by Japan to form an arbitration panel to address the issue of forced laborers during World War II.

The Japanese government earlier Monday called for a panel including a member from a third country to arbitrate the forced labor issue, citing procedures outlined in the 1965 bilateral claims agreement between Seoul and Tokyo. Seoul’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that it received an official letter through diplomatic channels from Tokyo earlier that morning with the latter’s request.

“Our government will take into consideration all factors regarding Japan’s measure and will proceed to prudently review it,” the ministry said in a statement.

Kyodo News earlier reported that the Japanese Foreign Ministry made the request because Seoul remained unresponsive to Tokyo’s offers to resolve the issue through diplomatic talks.

Tokyo has been protesting landmark decisions by Korea’s Supreme Court made last October and November ordering two Japanese companies - Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.

The Japanese companies have refused to comply, and the Korean forced labor victims and their families began legal procedures to seize and liquidate the companies’ assets in Korea.

Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral ties with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

Korea’s top court ruled last year that the 1965 agreement did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule, and found that the individuals’ right to file claims for damages had not expired.

In January, Tokyo called for a diplomatic solution to the forced labor compensation issue, initially giving a 30-day deadline for Seoul to respond.

The 1965 bilateral agreement stipulates that any future claims disputes could be submitted to a specially designated arbitration commission consisting of three representatives - one from each government and a third from a different country agreed on by both sides. If arbitration attempts fail, Tokyo could ultimately take the forced labor issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, although Korea’s consent would be necessary.

Korean Foreign Minister Kang said earlier this month in a press conference that the government will respect the decisions made by the Supreme Court and will attempt to find a solution acceptable to the forced labor victims.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono in turn warned that Tokyo may take “swift countermeasures” should damages be inflicted upon Japanese companies.

Kang and Kono may discuss the issue if they meet on the sidelines of an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meeting in Paris Wednesday and Thursday. Seoul and Tokyo are still in discussions over scheduling ministerial talks.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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