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Foreign Ministry hits back at Japan’s claim on wartime labor dispute, urges to face up to history

Japan lodges complaint to South Korean envoy, hints at additional measures against Korea

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry hit back Friday at Japan’s claim that South Korea was violating international law in the wartime forced labor issue and urged it to face up to history.

“The South Korean government cannot agree with the Japanese government’s unilateral and arbitrary claims regarding our court’s ruling and jurisdiction, and its arbitration proposal to resolve the dispute. We also do not have to be bound to (Japan’s) demands,” a ministry official said.

“To sincerely resolve the problem, Japan needs to face up to the unfortunate history and make efforts to heal the suffering and wounds of the victims.”

The ministry also urged Japan to withdraw its retaliatory export restrictions and seek diplomatic solutions. 

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left) holds a meeting with South Korea's Amba ssador to Japan Nam Gwan-Pyo at his office in foreign ministry in Tokyo on Friday. (Yonhap)
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left) holds a meeting with South Korea's Amba ssador to Japan Nam Gwan-Pyo at his office in foreign ministry in Tokyo on Friday. (Yonhap)

Earlier in the morning, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo and claimed that South Korea remains “in violation of international law” for not answering to Tokyo’s proposal to resolve the historical dispute via third-country arbitration.

“What the South Korean government is doing now subverts the world order established after World War II,” Kono said, adding that Seoul’s rejection was “very regrettable.”

Nam said that Japan’s “unilateral” actions were damaging the roots of the bilateral relationship.

“(The two sides) should work to quickly resolve the dispute through dialogue,” Nam said. “South Korean government is making ceaseless effort so that the case can close without hurting the bilateral ties.”

Seoul and Tokyo have been at odds since the top court here ruled in favor of South Korean victims who were forced to labor by Japanese companies during the 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

The court ordered Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to pay damages to the victims. But the companies have refused to comply and the Japanese government has claimed that these wartime crimes were settled in a 1965 treaty normalizing ties between the two countries.

Amid escalating tension over the discord, Japan slapped export restrictions on high-tech materials vital to South Korea’s technology sector early this month, which Seoul believes is a retaliatory measure to the Supreme Court’s rulings.

To settle the dispute, Seoul proposed South Korean and Japanese firms create a joint fund to compensate the victims of forced labor. The South Korean government has maintained that it will honor the court decision and that the issue should be resolved through diplomatic talks, rather than a dispute settlement process

But Japan has rejected this proposition, and called for the creation of an arbitration panel consisting of three third-country members on June 19. It set the deadline to Thursday, but Seoul did not give a response.

In Friday’s meeting, the two sides exchanged strong words.

When Nam said that Korea had also proposed a way to resolve the dispute, Kono cut in on him and said Japan could never accept Seoul’s proposal. Kono also said Korea made the proposal knowing that Japan is not going to accept it, and said it was “extremely rude.”

After the opening remarks, Kono and Nam held a closed-door meeting. In a statement released after the meeting, Kono said Tokyo would take “necessary measures” against Seoul.

It is the third time Japan has called in the South Korean envoy to complain about the court ruling, after Oct. 30, when the top court made the ruling, and on Nov. 29.

By Jo He-rim (