Japan tries ‘Korea passing’ after ties strained: Yomiuri

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Japan tries ‘Korea passing’ after ties strained: Yomiuri

Japan is trying to sideline Korea diplomatically, Japanese media reported Friday, as the two sides wrangle over Seoul’s top court’s rulings in favor of compensating colonial-era forced labor victims.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Japan is “readjusting Korea’s diplomatic standing” and attempting a “Korea passing” - ignoring the neighbor diplomatically - as the two neighbors deal with recent tensions over historical and defense issues.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a policy speech last week generally ignoring South Korea. The JoongAng Ilbo reported on Dec. 31 that Japan placed South Korea fifth in its security cooperation list after the United States, Australia, India and the Southeast Asian region, in that order. This was three places lower than in the last ranking in 2013.

The Yomiuri also reported that Korean President Moon Jae-in told his cabinet officials including Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in early January that the Korean government should not be at the forefront of the forced labor issue. He was said to have told his ministers ahead of a New Year’s address that compensation for the victims is an issue for Japanese companies.

Last October and November, Korea’s Supreme Court made landmark decisions last year calling for two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate Korean victims of forced labor from the colonial era.

Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters. The Korean Supreme Court rulings determined the 1965 treaty did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945, and that individuals’ right to file claims for damages had not expired.

A group of forced labor victims filed for the seizure of some Nippon Steel assets in Korea in early January after the Japanese steelmaking giant refused to compensate them, which Tokyo protested.

Friday marked a 30-day deadline set by Japan for Korea to respond to whether it will accept its request to launch bilateral consultations to resolve the issue of the asset seizure, which was brushed off by Seoul.

Noh Kyu-duk, the spokesman for the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing Thursday, “Our government is closely reviewing the Japanese side’s request for diplomatic consultations on the settlement agreement, taking into consideration all factors.”

Kyodo News Agency likewise reported that Japan warned Korea that it will take “countermeasures” if there is any seizure of assets of a Japanese company that has refused to pay compensation for wartime forced labor, citing diplomatic sources Thursday.

Options being floated by the Japanese government include raising tariffs on Korean imports or recalling Japan’s ambassador to Seoul, it reported.

Tokyo recalled its ambassador to Seoul between January and April 2017 over the placement of a statue honoring victims of the Japanese military’s sexual slavery of young women during World War II behind Japan’s consulate in Busan.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said in a briefing Friday that Tokyo “of course expects Korea to take corresponding measures” to its request for bilateral diplomatic consultations.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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