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South Korea warns Japan dispute could drag out

South Korea warns Japan dispute could drag out
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha addressed the ongoing dispute over compensation for Korean wartime laborers on Monday. File Photo by Yonhap

March 2 (UPI) -- The unresolved dispute between South Korea and Japan over a South Korean court order of compensation for Korean victims of forced wartime labor will "inevitably take time," Seoul said Monday.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at an interpellation session at the National Assembly that Seoul and Tokyo are in the middle of negotiations over the compensation issue, which emerged in 2018 and may have contributed to a trade dispute between the two countries.

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"The government has responded to the problem with a view that it can discuss various rational solutions by adhering to two principles: respecting the [South Korean] Supreme Court's judgment and implementing the victim's right to indemnity," Kang said, according to Yonhap.

Kang also said Japan's restrictive export controls, targeting South Korea's leading exports, including smartphones, flat-screen TVs and semiconductors, are "unfair and arbitrary."

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"We are discussing various means through diplomatic communications with Japan," Kang said. "Time spent looking for compromises will inevitably take time."

The top South Korean diplomat said Japan's trade measures must be reversed; Seoul and Tokyo's trade authorities are in talks, she added.

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Japan and South Korea have been at odds over various issues tied to history. Since South Korean President Moon Jae-in assumed office in 2017, Seoul has reversed decisions of the previous Park Geun-hye administration. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have been irritated with the developments, including the closure of a comfort women's foundation created in 2015.

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Abe's administration has claimed restitution for past wrongs, including the exploitation of laborers from the Korean Peninsula and mass rapes of Korean and other women in World War II brothels, were made with the signing of the Korea-Japan Treaty of 1965.

Former laborers have said they never received a settlement, though it is unclear whether Seoul or Tokyo was ultimately responsible for the oversight.

Newly declassified documents are showing Japan may have never intended to compensate Korean laborers, however.

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Hankyoreh reported Monday declassified material from the Japanese foreign ministry indicates Tokyo never intended to compensate Koreans for colonial occupation and its consequences.

"It's appropriate to hold off on the issue of property claims [between the two countries]. At the same time, we need to provide some kind of economic cooperation with South Korea in order to reach a breakthrough in our bilateral talks," the document read, according to the Hankyoreh.

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