Korea-Japan ties back to turmoil

Korea-Japan ties back to turmoil

Fractious relations between Korea and Japan are likely to turn hostile as Seoul has taken countermeasures against Tokyo's export restrictions and refusal to comply with Korean court rulings regarding certain companies' use of Korean forced laborers, raising speculations that the Japanese government could respond with economic retaliation.

According to the legal representatives for four Korean plaintiffs Wednesday, the Pohang branch of Daegu District Court in North Gyeongsang Province, Monday, made public a notification of the court's ruling made last year on seizing the Korean assets of Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. which benefitted from the use forced labor during WWII. The delivery of public notice will go into effect Aug. 4.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the Japanese firm to pay 100 million won ($82,000) in compensation to four Koreans for their forced labor, but it refused to comply with the ruling and the plaintiffs requested an asset seizure, which was approved by the court in Pohang.

Alongside the legal procedure, the Korean government, frustrated by the Japanese government's refusal to lift its trade curbs against the country, has decided to reopen a complaint filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Last July, the Shinzo Abe administration abruptly imposed export restrictions on Korea in an apparent retaliation for the forced labor rulings. In response, the Moon Jae-in government threatened to take the issue to the WTO and scrap a bilateral military intelligence-sharing agreement ― although both plans have been temporarily suspended after months of pressure from the U.S. government.

Amid the intensifying diplomatic feud between the neighbors, the foreign ministers of both sides held a 40-minute phone conversation to bridge their differences over the issues, Wednesday, during which they did find that the two sides still remained far apart.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha expressed regret to her Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi over Japan's failure lift the export curbs, urging him to swiftly remove the restrictions.

Motegi countered, saying that Korea's WTO decision would not be helpful to resolving the nations' differences. He also warned Kang that the assets should not be liquidated as this would lead to a serious situation.

Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, Thursday, the government would respond to the issue with every option on the table.

Japan claims that the issue of compensation was settled in the 1965 state-to-state pact on normalizing diplomatic relations.

According to Japanese media outlets, the Japanese government is reviewing its retaliatory measures in the event of the court-ordered liquidation of Japanese firms' assets such as seizing and liquidating assets of Korean companies there or imposing tariffs on Korean imports.

"The WTO complaint means that Korea will not hold talks or discussions with Japan, which will sour already tense relations between the two countries. Given that there will be no windows of opportunity for negotiation over pending issues, no efforts from both sides to resolve their spat will inevitably lead to the further deterioration of bilateral relations," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.

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