Gov’t hasn’t decided on Japan’s call for meetingKorea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that no decision has been made on a request from Japan for bilateral diplomatic consultations over the issue of Korean victims of forced labor during Japanese colonial rule.
Following key Korean Supreme Court’s decisions last October and November that ordered Japanese companies to compensate forced labor victims, a district court in Pohang recently approved plaintiffs’ request for the seizure of Japanese steelmaking giant Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal’s assets in Korea.
In protest, the Japanese government on Thursday officially requested diplomatic talks with the Korean government based on the bilateral claims agreement signed in 1965 as part of a treaty normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries.
“We have received the request by the Japanese side for bilateral talks and plan to review it closely,” confirmed Noh Kyu-duk, the Korean Foreign Ministry’s spokesman.
Article III of the 1965 claims agreement stipulates that Seoul and Tokyo settle any dispute on the interpretation or implementation of the treaty through diplomatic channels, and if this fails, to refer the decision to a three-member arbitration commission.
“We plan to review it in a prudent manner,” Noh said on the request for diplomatic consultations. He added that “no details have been decided on yet.”
Tokyo maintains that the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provides the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.
But the Korean Supreme Court decisions on Oct. 30 on Nippon Steel and Nov. 29 on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries concluded that the individuals’ right to file claims for damages has not expired. The decisions noted that the 1965 claims agreement did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.
“Our government maintains the basic position that we will respect the Supreme Court decision and related judicial procedures on the forced labor victims,” said Noh. “We plan to take countermeasures by seeking practical ways to heal the psychological pains and scars of the victims while taking into consideration Korea and Japan’s future-oriented relations.”
Seoul also cautioned against exacerbating tensions over the issue.
Noh said, “Under such a situation, we see that there is no need to repeat unnecessary conflict or hostility, which is not at all helpful to the resolution of the issue. Thus, it is important to manage the situation in a prudent and level-headed manner.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said that he “believes that the Korean government will respond” to the request by Japan for diplomatic consultations on the issue of compensating victims of forced labor, reported Japanese broadcaster NHK Thursday.
The report said that Kono, during a visit to Nepal, said that Japan “requested for consultation because it is clear that there is a dispute” over the Korea-Japan claims agreement.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, called the Korean plaintiffs’ moves to seize Nippon Steel’s assets in Korea “extremely regrettable” in a press conference Wednesday. The Japanese Foreign Ministry also lodged a protest with Korean Ambassador to Tokyo Lee Su-hoon Wednesday.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]