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Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 18:23
Japan rejects ROK's offer to resolve forced labor dispute
By Bloomberg
Wednesday, June 19, 2019, 18:23 By Bloomberg

Korean victims of Japan's forced labor and their family members raise their hands in celebration after the Supreme Court's ruling ordering Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate them in Seoul, in the Republic of Korea, Nov 29, 2018. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)

Japan rejected a proposal by the Republic of Korea (ROK) for a joint compensation fund to resolve a dispute over colonial-era forced labor claims, in the latest sign of strain between the two US allies.

ROK’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was willing to consider diplomatic talks about compensation for ROK victims forced to work for Japanese companies before and during World War II. The offer was made on the condition that Japan accepted the ministry’s proposal that companies from both countries make contributions to a fund.

ROK's offer was made on the condition that Japan accepted the ministry’s proposal that companies from both countries make contributions to a fund. But Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the plan "would not rectify the breach of international law and therefore would not be a resolution to this problem"

The Seoul ministry said in a statement that the government had sought ways to resolve the forced labor issue while listening to public opinion and experts, Xinhua reports. 

ALSO READ: ROK, Japan diplomats to meet amid wartime forced labor row

During the process, an idea was raised that it would be desirable for the relevant parties to be reconciled with each other by compensating the victims, who had won the court trial, through funds voluntarily created by Japanese and ROK companies, including the accused Japanese firms, Xinhua added. 

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the plan “would not rectify the breach of international law and therefore would not be a resolution to this problem. ”

The statements came hours after the Sankei newspaper reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had decided not to meet ROK President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka. The move was due to the lack of progress on the issue that Japan sees as settled under a 1965 treaty, the Sankei reported, without saying where it got its information.

Abe decided against meeting Moon after ROK didn’t meet a June 18 deadline to respond to Japan’s requests for arbitration to resolve compensation disputes, the Sankei reported. The report came nine days before Japan holds the annual Group of 20 gathering of leaders of the world’s biggest economies, when the host nation’s leader usually meets one-on-one with visiting counterparts.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have soured since Japan protested late last year against the ROK top court's ruling that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp should pay compensation for the forced labor victims, Xinhua reports.

READ MORE: S. Koreans seek Nippon Steel asset seizure in 'forced labor' case

The ROK top court passed a similar judgment, ordering Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd to compensate two groups of ROK victims over wartime forced labor, Xinhua added. 

In this Oct 30, 2018 photo, the Republic of Korea (ROK)'s Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Kim Myeong-su, center, sits with other justices upon their arrival at the Supreme Court in Seoul, ROK. (LEE JIN-MAN / AP)

Additional ROK victims sued other Japanese firms, including Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp and Mitsubishi Materials Corp, claiming that they or their family members were adversely affected by the wartime forced labor, according to Xinhua.

The dispute has complicated US attempts to coordinate a response to nuclear and missile threats from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Colonial Rule

“Nothing has been decided,” Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Natsuko Sakata said Wednesday in response to a question about the meeting. ROK’s presidential office said arrangements for G20 meetings remained under discussion.

The statements from the ROK and Japanese sides came hours after it was reported that Japanese PM Abe had decided not to meet ROK President Moon on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka

Japan has said that all claims relating to the 1910-45 colonial period were decided under the 1965 treaty that normalized ties and states that matters of compensation are “settled completely and finally.” Moon argues that the treaty doesn’t prevent ROK victims from suing Japanese firms and that the court decisions should be respected.

Moon’s government has also rejected Japan’s US$9 million fund for ROK women trafficked to Japan’s Imperial Army brothels across Asia, which was agreed under his predecessor in a deal meant to bring wrangling over that issue to an end.

ALSO READ: Surviving 'comfort women' spend final years seeking atonement from Japan

Japan has been looking for a resolution on the forced labor cases by invoking treaty arbitration provisions for matters that can’t be settled through diplomatic channels. Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, called in an official from the ROK embassy Wednesday to convey Japan’s disappointment over what Tokyo saw as ROK’s failure to meet the deadline and to continue to press for arbitration.

US President Donald Trump will be in Osaka for the G20 that starts June 28 and was expected to visit ROK after the meeting. But it was unclear whether US leader might use the gathering to get the two American allies to patch up the dispute.

There’s little political incentive for either Moon or Abe to climb down — a poll published last week found the proportion of Japanese with a positive view of ROK had fallen to a record low of 20%. The share of ROK people who saw Japan positively rose to 31.7%.

With Xinhua inputs

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