Japan urges South Korea to stop seizure of Nippon Steel assets

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Sept. 24 (UPI) — Japan’s newly appointed chief cabinet secretary warned against the liquidation of assets belonging to Japan’s Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. in South Korea, where a court last year approved the seizure of the firm’s assets for wartime forced labor compensation.

Katsunobu Kato, Tokyo’s former health minister, said Thursday at a regular press briefing the seizure of Japanese assets could lead to a “grave situation,” South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

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“The Japanese side has pointed this out forcefully and repeatedly,” Kato said. “We want to continue to strongly demand the Korean side propose a solution at an early time.”

In October 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel pay about $85,000 each to plaintiffs in a forced wartime labor case. The Japanese company appealed the decision in August.

South Korean plaintiffs are seeking justice for past wrongs, but Tokyo has said all reparations to victims were made with the signing of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.

New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga raised the case during a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, their first conversation since Suga’s election.

Suga said the court order affecting Nippon Steel “should not be left unattended” or to go ahead, Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported Thursday.

Kato said Suga asked for an opportunity to restore a “healthy relationship” between the two sides. The Japanese official also said Seoul should restore the 2015 Japan-Korea “comfort women” deal that included a foundation to compensate victims of Japanese brothels during World War II.

Moon and Suga held their first call on Thursday and agreed to the “future-oriented” development of relations. The two leaders agreed to cooperate on combating the novel coronavirus, according to Yonhap.

Differences remain on other issues, however.

On Tuesday, South Korea expressed concern at a general meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna over Japanese plans to release radioactive wastewater into the ocean, NHK reported.

The water has been building up at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant since 2011.