By Reiji Yoshida and Sakura Murakami, staff writers
High-ranking Japanese officials denied a media report Tuesday that Tokyo and Seoul are considering setting up a joint “economic cooperation fund” to resolve the thorny issue of wartime forced labor compensation, which has repeatedly rocked bilateral relations over the past year.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga emphatically denied the report, saying during a news conference on Tuesday that it is “not factually true.”
A senior Foreign Ministry official claimed separately that the report is “an outright lie.”
“I have no idea what ‘an economic cooperation fund’ means,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This issue should be resolved by the governments of the two countries,” the official added.
The wartime forced labor issue flared up in October last year, when South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered a Japanese firm to pay compensation to four South Koreans who were forced to work in Japan during World War II. Similar rulings followed in the country.
Japan has demanded South Korea take measures to avoid damage to Japanese firms, but no such action has been taken as of yet, with Seoul maintaining that the independence of judicial powers must be observed.
On Monday, Kyodo News reported that Tokyo and Seoul have started exploring ways to resolve the wartime forced labor issue, with one option being the creation of a fund to provide funds described as “economic cooperation,” and not “compensation.”
According to the report, which quoted unnamed sources familiar with the bilateral relationship, the idea has been floated during diplomatic talks between the two countries.
Under the proposal, the South Korean government and businesses in the country would set up the fund, and Japanese firms would also participate in the project.
The idea was reportedly designed not to contradict Japan’s firmly-held diplomatic position that all compensation issues involving wartime Korean workers had already been completely settled under an economic cooperation pact agreed to in 1965, which was attached to the basic treaty that normalized the postwar bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The online Japanese-language version of the Chosun Ilbo, a major South Korean newspaper, also reported Tuesday that South Korea’s foreign ministry had denied the Kyodo report, quoting an unnamed official.
“This is not true,” the official was quoted as saying, although he reportedly added that Seoul and Tokyo were still continuing “communications” to explore ideas to resolve the wartime forced labor issue in a way that would be acceptable for both countries.
On Friday, Tokyo is set to host a general assembly to be attended by Diet members from the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union and a group of South Korean lawmakers.
The assembly had originally been scheduled for September but was delayed until November amid increasingly tense relations.