By Mayumi Ogawa
DAVOS—Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on the morning of Jan. 23 (the afternoon of Jan. 23 Japan time). Their one-on-one meeting took place for the first time after South Korea’s top court handed down its final ruling in October last year that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation to compensate South Korean men claiming that they were compelled to work against their will during wartime as so-called requisitioned workers. Kono made a request to Kang, saying that South Korea should respond to intergovernmental consultations which the Japanese government has requested under an agreement reached in 1965 between Japan and the Republic of Korea on rights to make claims.
Kono also took the position that the issue of individual rights to make claims has already been settled under the agreement. In this regard, he requested that the ROK take immediate action to redress the current situation that is in a state of violating the agreement.
The Japan-ROK foreign ministerial, initially set for 30 minutes, was held substantially longer for about an hour. Kono and Kang also spared much of their time discussing issues concerning the class actions instituted by workers requisitioned during wartime.
Concerning the lawsuits of those former requisitioned workers, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. received a notice of seizure on Jan. 9. In response, Administrative Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba summoned ROK Ambassador to Japan Lee Su-hoon to lodge a protest, and made a request for bilateral consultations.
However, ROK President Moon Jae-in, in his New Year’s press remarks on Jan. 10, criticized Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration, asserting that “Japanese political leaders are politicizing this matter.” As such, the ROK apparently is not poised to sit down for consultations. According to the Foreign Ministry, Kang just stated the ROK government’s position during the foreign ministerial as well.
In the meeting, Kono and Kang also discussed the issue of an ROK naval destroyer’s illumination of a Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol plane with its fire-control radar. The two foreign ministers agreed that it’s important to continue close communication between the two countries’ diplomatic officials, including between their foreign ministers themselves. They also exchanged views on the dissolution of the “Reconciliation and Healing Foundation,” which was established under a Japan-ROK agreement of 2015 over the issue of comfort women.
Meanwhile, Kono and Kang also coordinated on Tokyo’s and Seoul’s North Korea policies since the United States and North Korea are now set to hold a summit meeting of their leaders in late February. The two foreign ministers reaffirmed that Japan and the ROK will closely cooperate for the Korean Peninsula’s complete denuclearization and trilateral cooperation among Japan, the United States, and the ROK.