By Makiko Yanada
ZURICH (Switzerland) — Foreign Minister Taro Kono met with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, for about an hour in Davos, Switzerland, in the morning of Jan. 23 (the night of Jan. 23, Japan Time) amid worsening bilateral relations over the issue of lawsuits filed by former South Korean requisitioned workers. Regarding the issue, Kono called on South Korea to promptly agree to hold bilateral talks based on an agreement on property and claims and on economic cooperation.
South Korea’s Supreme Court in October last year finalized a ruling that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay compensation to its former South Korean requisitioned workers. That resulted in a string of court rulings in South Korea ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation, and procedures were carried out to seize their assets. The Japanese government called on South Korea to take measures to prevent the rulings from having a detrimental impact on Japanese businesses. And on Jan. 9, Tokyo asked Seoul to hold talks based on the agreement.
During the latest meeting, Kono said: “It’s obvious that there exists a conflict over the interpretation and application of the agreement. I’d like to swiftly solve the problem at the meeting I’ve requested,” calling for early talks. The Japanese government takes the position that the wartime compensation issue with South Korea, including former requisitioned workers, has been settled under the agreement on property and claims. After the meeting, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry only announced that Kang “explained the South Korean government’s position” on that issue but did not disclose details of her remarks.
Another item on the meeting’s agenda was a South Korean navy destroyer’s illuminating with its fire control radar a Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol plane in December last year. Regarding this issue, [Japan’s] Ministry of Defense on Jan. 21 decided to terminate working-level talks, saying South Korea does not agree to discussions based on objective facts. Kono underscored, “The opinion released by Japan is final.”
Prior to the foreign ministers’ meeting, South Korea’s military announced on Jan. 23 that a Maritime Self-Defense plane made a “threatening flight” near a South Korean navy vessel in the East China Sea. Kang, at the beginning of her meeting with Kono, said, “Low-altitude flights by Japanese patrol planes are regrettable.” Kono rebutted her claim and said Japanese aircraft “have not made the kind of close-distance flights claimed by South Korea.”
As for North Korea, the foreign ministers agreed to confirm cooperation between Japan and South Korea and between Japan, the U.S., and South Korea in light of the fact that the second summit between the U.S. and North Korea is likely to be held as early as February. Kono and Kang also discussed the comfort women issue.
The last direct meeting between Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers was held four months ago. Their latest meeting was the first since South Korea’s Supreme Court made a final decision in October last year on a lawsuit filed by former requisitioned workers.