All national dailies wrote that on Wednesday the GOJ requested the ROK government begin talks with Japan on a South Korea court’s approval of the seizure of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.’s assets in response to a petition filed by Korean requisitioned workers. Vice Foreign Minister Akiba relayed to the South Korean ambassador to Japan a request for discussions based on the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims. Akiba reportedly said there clearly is a dispute between the two governments over the interpretation of the pact, which Japan believes settled “completely and finally” all disputes related to wartime compensation.
The Moon administration reportedly responded by issuing a statement last night saying that it will closely examine the Japanese request. It also urged Japan to manage the situation carefully and in a cool-headed manner. The dailies said although Tokyo regards the court’s approval of the asset seizure as a very serious matter, it is unclear whether Seoul will agree to such talks, speculating that in the event that it rejects the Japanese request, the Abe administration may invoke a provision of the 1965 accord to propose the launch of an arbitration panel involving a third country or file a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice.
Sankei claimed that the GOJ decided to ask for bilateral consultations immediately after the Korean court’s authorization of the asset seizure in a bid to demonstrate at home and abroad that Tokyo is determined to take a stern approach to the matter. While quoting an unnamed senior MOFA official as saying that Japan’s “patience has hit its limits,” the daily speculated that the Abe administration hoped to warn Seoul ahead of President Moon’s first press conference of the year scheduled for today that the dispute is serious enough to rock the legal foundation of bilateral relations. Sankei speculated that Japan’s potential retaliatory measures may include a hike in tariffs on Korean imports, the discontinuation of visa waver for Korean tourists, and the recall of the Japanese ambassador to Korea. Mainichi wrote that economic sanctions such as seizing the ROK government’s assets in Japan might be unrealistic since the necessary legal arrangements would be time-consuming, adding that adopting such punitive measures would complicate bilateral coordination on North Korea.
Concerning South Korea’s response, Asahi said the Moon administration has been looking into measures regarding the court rulings ordering two Japanese steelmakers to pay compensation to the victims, noting that while the establishment of a fund to pay compensation is one idea, Japan is likely to oppose this proposal if it is asked to finance such a foundation. Yomiuri speculated that the Korean public would react very strongly if measures to be taken by the Moon administration are not compatible with the Supreme Court verdicts. While noting that close attention will be paid to President Moon’s possible comments on the dispute during a planned press conference today, the daily expressed concern that additional lawsuits seeking compensation may be filed one after another by other requisitioned workers if the ROK government fails to announce its response to the Supreme Court rulings swiftly.