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Kono presses S Korea on wartime labor issue

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Thursday turned up the heat on South Korea in a dispute over compensation for wartime labor, pushing Seoul to agree to arbitration as Tokyo requested earlier.
He asserted the demand in a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha in Paris. But a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Kang did not agree to the request, only repeating Seoul's intention to review it.
Kono told reporters later that South Korean President Moon Jae In needs to come up with measures necessary to resolve the spat in a responsible manner by the time a Group of 20 summit takes place in Osaka in late June.
Relations between the two countries have shown no signs of improving following a series of court rulings in South Korea that ordered Japanese companies to compensate for forced labor during Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
In a tense exchange at the outset of their meeting, Kono criticized a South Korean Foreign Ministry official for telling reporters there would be "no problem" if Japanese companies just complied with court orders to pay compensation for work done during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
"This remark shows a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation. I would like you to see that things like this are complicating our countries' relations," Kono told Kang.
Their first face-to-face meeting since February followed Tokyo's request that an arbitration panel involving a third country be established to resolve the dispute.
Tokyo maintains that the issue of wartime compensation was resolved by a 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between the two countries, under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in financial aid.
Kang said she hopes that with the beginning of the new Reiwa era in Japan, the two countries can resolve "difficult issues" and take relations in a more positive direction.
South Korea has yet to say whether it will agree with the request for arbitration, which was made in line with the dispute-settlement procedures agreed under the treaty.
If Seoul rejects the request, Kono has said that the Japanese government will take the issue to the International Court of Justice.
The two met on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with bilateral ties increasingly strained over the wartime labor issue and other disagreements.
In late October, South Korea's top court ordered Nippon Steel Corp to pay compensation to four South Koreans for forced labor during Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. The company was previously called Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.
Other Japanese companies have since been hit with similar rulings and had their assets seized.
Due to the frosty ties, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may not hold bilateral talks with Moon on the periphery of the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, government sources have said.
During Thursday's talks with Kono, Kang refused to lift a ban on seafood from Fukushima and seven other Japanese prefectures, citing the need to honor the World Trade Organization's ruling last month in favor of the restrictions imposed in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster.
Kono and Kang also discussed recent developments concerning North Korea, including Pyongyang's testing of short-range ballistic missiles earlier this month, and agreed to continue closely coordinating on the matter.


© KYODO
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