TOKYO — Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday that a South Korean court ruling ordering a Japanese firm to pay compensation for wartime forced labor is “very regrettable and totally unacceptable.
“In a statement, Kono said the Japanese government will weigh “every option,” including taking the matter to an international court unless appropriate action is taken by South Korea immediately.
The South Korean ruling fundamentally would reverse the legal foundation of friendly and cooperative relations between Japan and South Korea, the statement said.
Japan has maintained that the right to seek compensation has been terminated under a 1965 bilateral treaty signed between Japan and South Korea.
South Korea’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling from several years ago that ordered a Japanese steel firm to compensate four South Koreans who were victims of forced labor during Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp. lodged an appeal in August 2013 after the Seoul High Court had the previous month ordered it to pay 400 million won ($350,000) in compensation to the workers, only one of whom remains alive.
Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal also said the ruling is “regrettable,” adding that it will take appropriate action after examining it.
Despite Tokyo’s efforts to foster bilateral relations in a future-oriented manner, wartime history continues to cast a pall over them, seen in the issue of South Koreans forced into labor, as well as “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels.