Japanese finance minister floats Korea tariffs

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Japanese finance minister floats Korea tariffs

Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday tariffs were among several measures Tokyo could take against Seoul if the neighboring countries’ dispute over Korea’s wartime laborers during Japanese colonial rule worsens.

“There are various possible retaliatory measures, but I think negotiations are going on and we have not reached that point,” Aso told lawmakers in a Diet meeting, according to Bloomberg. “If things progress and there is more damage, we will be at a different stage.”

Aso added that halting remittances or stopping visa issuance could also be considered if things worsen.

The hostile remarks came after Japan’s Jiji Press reported last weekend that Tokyo was considering imposing tariffs on nearly 100 Korean products, tightening the issuance of visas and cutting the supply of several Japanese products to Korea if Seoul sells the assets of Japanese companies it seized during the dispute.

Aso’s comments were the latest in a months-long diplomatic dust-up that began with Korea’s Supreme Court rulings last October and November, when the country’s highest court ordered two Japanese companies - Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries - to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

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 Supreme Court rulings determined that the 1965 treaty did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonialism, so the individuals’ right to file claims for damages remains unexpired.

But both Japanese companies have refused to comply with the Korean rulings to compensate the victims, and the plaintiffs asked local courts to seize the Japanese companies’ assets in Korea.

In early January, a local court approved the seizure of shares owned by Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal in a joint venture with Korea’s largest steelmaker, Posco. But the plaintiffs have not yet requested that the assets be monetized, giving Nippon Steel time to settle the case through negotiations.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in didn’t back down when he addressed the country two weeks ago to mark the centennial of the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement, when Koreans rose up against Japanese colonial rule.

“Only when we contemplate past wrongdoings can we move toward the future together,” Moon solemnly said. “The task of setting history right is what is needed to help our future generations stand tall.”

Moon warned that an era of peace will only dawn when both countries reflect on their shared history and when “the pain of victims is substantively healed through concerted efforts.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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