South Korea must resolve wartime labor dispute, Tokyo says

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Oct. 26 (UPI) — South Korea must come up with a “solution” on the issue of compensation for Korean wartime laborers, Tokyo says.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday in his first parliamentary policy speech South Korea is a “very important neighbor,” the Sankei Shimbun reported Monday.

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The statement comes a year after Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe had said Korea was “an important neighbor.”

“In order to return to a healthy Japan-Korea relationship, and based on [Japan’s] consistent position, we strongly request an appropriate response” from Seoul, Suga said.

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 decision increased tensions that culminated in trade restrictions. The Japanese company appealed the decision in August, after the court said it would enforce an asset seizure or sale of local assets, including a joint venture called PNR in Korea.

Japan has expressed regret regarding the forced mobilization of Korean laborers during its colonial occupation of the peninsula, but the government has also said all colonial-era compensation claims were settled with the signing of the 1965 Korea-Japan normalization treaty.

In a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in September, Suga had said the court order affecting Nippon Steel “should not be left unattended” or to go ahead.

Earlier this month, the Asahi Shimbun reported Suga could cancel a planned trip to Korea later this year, if Seoul does not comply with Tokyo’s request. Suga is scheduled to travel for a trilateral summit with South Korean and Chinese leaders.

Japan’s request has so far been turned down in Seoul, where the Moon administration has said it “respects the judgment of the judiciary.”

On Oct. 13, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said if Japanese assets in Korea are seized and liquidated, the move would cause a “serious situation” in bilateral ties. South Korean plaintiffs in the case, many of them descendants of wartime laborers, have called for the liquidation of PNR.