Court tells Mitsubishi Heavy liquidation is nigh
A Daejeon court Tuesday finished serving notice on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries that its assets in Korea would be seized to compensate wartime forced labor victims.
According to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, Mitsubishi planned to “immediately” file an appeal in a case that has plagued Korea-Japan relations for more than two years.
While the court is now able to sell off Mitsubishi’s assets in Korea — in the form of six patent and two trademark rights worth around 840 million won ($768,000) — any actual steps taken are likely to generate retaliation from Tokyo, which has repeatedly warned Seoul not to touch its companies’ properties.
The Korean Supreme Court made a ruling on Nov. 29, 2018 ordering Mitsubishi to pay around 100 million won each to four Korean victims of Japanese forced labor during World War II. The ruling followed a landmark decision made against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal on Oct. 30 that year.
Korea’s top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule and recognized that individuals' rights to compensation had not expired. The ruling was disputed by Japan, which insists all compensation issues related to its colonial rule were resolved through a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations.
Bolstered by their government’s stance on the matter, the two Japanese companies refused to comply with the Korean court, setting off a legal process by the plaintiffs to seize their assets in Korea.
In November, the Daejeon District Court served notice to Mitsubishi of the asset seizure plan, which was done through public notification due to the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s refusal to deliver the relevant court documents to the company.
Another liquidation order notice was served earlier by the Daegu District Court in August against Nippon Steel, which owns property in Korea in the form of 194,794 shares in a joint venture with Korean steelmaker Posco, worth around 973 million won.
Nippon Steel filed an appeal, issuing a public statement worded in an identical fashion to one put out by Mitsubishi on Tuesday.
Tokyo has been warning Seoul that the liquidation of assets of Japanese companies would lead to retaliatory measures.
In July 2019, Japan implemented export restrictions impacting Korea's semiconductor and display industries and later removed Korea from its so-called white list of most trusted trading partners. Though Tokyo has not acknowledged so, the move was seen as retaliation for Korea's forced labor rulings.
Should the liquidation process take place, Tokyo could retaliate diplomatically, economically or through international law. Such measures could include increased tariffs, stricter visa restrictions, financial sanctions, suspension of remittances, seizure of Korean assets in Japan and the recalling of the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, according to Japanese media reports.
The forced labor issue is just one of several colonial-era disputes that have brought the neighboring countries' relations to their worst level in decades.
According to the Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said the Moon Jae-in administration in Korea should respect a controversial agreement on the issue of wartime sexual slavery reached in 2015 between the preceding Park Geun-hye government and Japan, another historical issue impeding bilateral relations.
Korea's Foreign Ministry responded Tuesday by stressing Japan should act in a way that shows remorse for its forceful recruitment of girls and young women from Korea to serve in the Japanese military’s frontline brothels before and during World War II.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]