Japan urges South Korea to take steps to resolve dispute after talks

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s foreign minister said Tuesday he expects South Korea to take appropriate steps to resolve wartime disputes between the countries, warning that poor management, particularly the issue of Korean forced labourers, would have « serious » consequences for their bilateral relations.

Yoshimasa Hayashi hosted his South Korean counterpart Park Jin on Monday and both reaffirmed the importance of resolving differences and improving their ties and tripartite relations with the United States amid growing tensions with China and Korea. of the North and the war in Ukraine.

Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have been at their worst in years, raising concerns about security cooperation in East Asia. US President Joe Biden has called for improved relations between his two Asian allies.

At the center of the dispute is the wartime abusive treatment of Korean workers by Japanese mines and factories. The two sides also disagree on the Japanese interpretation of so-called « comfort women », who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

In 2018, South Korean courts ordered two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate former Korean workers. Japanese companies and its government have refused to comply with the rulings, while former workers and their supporters are pursuing the forced sale of the social assets of the two companies held in South Korea.

Hayashi quoted Park on Tuesday as saying that his country would seek a resolution of the dispute before selling the assets of the two Japanese companies to South Korea. The countries’ foreign ministries also acknowledged the same remarks in their Monday evening statements.

Hayashi said Japan will « watch closely » how President Yoon Suk Yeol’s government responds to the issue while communicating closely with the South Korean side to restore their ties to « a healthy state. »

He also warned that the sale of the companies’ assets « will invoke a serious situation for Japan-South Korea relations. »

On Tuesday, Park met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and conveyed his condolences over the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe. Kishida sought Park’s efforts to resolve issues between the two sides, Kyodo News reported. Japanese Foreign Ministry officials declined to give further details of the talks.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Park conveyed to Kishida Yoon the message of his determination to improve relations and that Kishida expressed his gratitude. The ministry quoted Park as telling Kishida it hoped the two leaders would meet at a mutually convenient time.

Park also told Kishida that his government will abide by a 2015 agreement in which Japan paid $1 billion in funds as a measure of atonement for wartime sexual exploitation, Kyodo said. The previous South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in rejected the deal.


Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press


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