Japan calls in S. Korean ambassador over company asset seizure for forced labor

TOKYO/SEOUL, The Japanese government summoned Seoul's top envoy in Tokyo on Wednesday to protest a court decision to seize assets of a Japanese company in South Korea following a request by victims of wartime forced labor.

Last year, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to pay compensation to four South Koreans for their forced labor and unpaid work during World War II. Korea was under Japan's colonization at that time.

As the firm has refused to comply with the ruling, the plaintiffs requested asset seizure. A court in Pohang, southeast of Seoul, said Tuesday it has approved the petition.

Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba expressed regrets over the court decision when he met South Korean Ambassador Lee Su-hoon.

After the 10-minute talks with Akiba, Lee told reporters that Seoul and Tokyo should make greater efforts to prevent bilateral ties from further worsening, particularly when their relations face a "difficult" situation.

Japan made a request to Lee that Seoul and Tokyo begin government talks over the issue of the asset seizure.

Noting the need to handle the diplomatic issue "cool-headedly and prudently," Seoul's foreign ministry said that it will thoroughly examine the request.

"Under the basic position that the (Seoul) government respects the court rulings over victims of forced labor and judicial procedures, it will devise measures in comprehensive consideration of the need to practically heal the pains and scars of the victims and the South Korea-Japan relations," it said in a press release.

It added that it believes "causing unnecessary conflict and antagonism will never be helpful in resolving the issue."

Article III of a 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo that normalized their ties, stipulates that they are to settle any dispute related to the treaty primarily through diplomatic channels. Japanese officials have argued that all reparation-related issues tied to the 1910-45 colonial rule were settled in the treaty.

The assets in question are 81,075 shares, worth around 400 million won (US$356,000), in PNR, a joint venture set up by Nippon Steel and South Korean steelmaker POSCO.

Later in the day, PNR received the legal document about the asset seizure, a procedure that effectuated the court decision.

Though the Pohang court sent the document by mail last week, it had not arrived at PNR headquarters, triggering speculation that the document might have been rejected.

Observers said that as PNR is located inside the POSCO factory, catagorized as a state security facility, access to the company building is restricted.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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