Seoul rejects arbitration panel request

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Seoul rejects arbitration panel request

The Blue House on Tuesday rejected Japan’s request to form an international arbitration panel to address the diplomatic row concerning a Korean Supreme Court ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of wartime forced labor.

A senior presidential aide said Tuesday the Moon Jae-in administration has no intention to accept Tokyo’s demand to address the situation using processes stipulated in the 1965 bilateral agreement, which settled compensation issues concerning the colonial past of the two countries. The rejection was announced two days before the deadline Japan had set for Korea’s reply.

When asked during a press briefing about Japan’s request for an arbitration panel and whether the Blue House accepted it, the official said, “No, we don’t,” clarifying an earlier remark made by another presidential official that suggested the government was seriously considering the proposal. “Now we have a clear conclusion,” he added, after shooting down the possibility of Seoul’s participation in an arbitration panel.

Since the Supreme Court of Korea ruled late last year that Japanese companies must compensate Koreans conscripted for labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule, Japan has refused to accept the court ruling, maintaining that the 1965 bilateral agreement settled all matters regarding property and claims and economic cooperation.

The Korean plaintiffs started legal processes to seize the assets of the Japanese firms in Korea. Japan, in response, demanded a diplomatic consultation with Korea in January to address the situation based on Article 3 of the agreement. Japan’s Foreign Ministry also sent a request to the Korean Foreign Ministry in May that the two countries form an arbitration panel involving a third country. Tokyo asked for Seoul’s response by tomorrow.

Clause 2 of Article 3 in the 1965 agreement says that any dispute that cannot be settled through diplomatic channels shall be submitted for decision to an arbitral commission of three arbitrators. The arbitrators are to be appointed by the two countries and a third party. The Moon administration has maintained the position that the government has no right to intervene in a court ruling, citing separation of powers.

Meanwhile, President Moon on Tuesday stressed the role of Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon in Korea’s diplomacy, fueling speculations that he could be sent to Japan as a special envoy to resolve the snowballing diplomatic row.

Moon made a rare move on Tuesday by devoting his entire opening remark for the cabinet meeting to promote Lee’s role in diplomacy. Lee was absent at the meeting as he had started a tour on Saturday to Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Qatar.

Moon said he needed to share the diplomatic role with the prime minister to meet all the demands of state diplomacy. Since he took office in May 2017, Moon has visited 29 countries. Lee will end up having visited 24 countries when he completes the four-nation Asia tour later this month.

Moon assured that the prime minister, according to the Constitution, is eligible to engage in diplomacy as a state leader.

Conspicuously missing in Moon’s opening statement for the cabinet meeting was a message to Japan to condemn its recent decision to impose export restrictions on Korea.

Politicians have been urging Moon to send a special envoy to find a political resolution to the current diplomatic deadlock between Korea and Japan, and Lee, who has maintained strong personal ties with top Japanese officials, political leaders and experts, has often been speculated as the best candidate.

The Blue House has never ruled out the possibility of sending a special envoy to seek a political resolution, but has been cautious about the timing. “We will be able to tell you more if the plan takes shape,” a presidential aide said last week.

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