South Korean President ready to sit with Japan over forced labour issue

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a joint press statement briefing with Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Busan, South Korea, November 26, 2019. Yonhap via REUTERS

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Saturday that his government was ready to sit face-to-face with Japan to resolve a long-drawn-out issue of forced labour during World War II.

“Our government is ready to sit face-to-face with the Japanese government at any time,” Moon said in a televised address to mark the 75th anniversary of the Korean Peninsula’s liberation from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.

“The government respects the judiciary’s ruling, and has consulted with Japan’s government on a smooth resolution, to which the (South Korean) victims can agree,” Xinhua news agency quoted the President as saying.

Moon noted that South Korea currently left the door of consultations with Japan “wide open” over the forced labor issue.

Four South Korean victims, who were forced into heavy labour without pay during the colonial era, field a damages lawsuit in 2005 against a Japanese steelmaker.

Among the four victims, Lee Chun-sik is the only surviving plaintiff.

It was followed by other wartime forced labour victims and their families lodging compensation suits against Japanese companies.

South Korea’s Supreme Court delivered a ruling in 2018 that ordered some of Japanese companies to pay reparation to the victims.

Japan has claimed that all colonial-era issues were settled through a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries, but the South Korean top court ruled that the state-to-state deal did not involve individuals’ right to reparation.

Referring to the surviving plaintiff, Moon said: “We will confirm the fact that protecting the dignity of an individual will never be a loss to the country.”

In an apparent protest against the top court’s ruling, Japan tightened control in July last year over its export of three materials vital to producing memory chips and display panels that are the mainstay of South Korea’s export.

In August 2019, Japan dropped South Korea off its whitelist of trusted trading partners that are given preferential export procedure.

In response, Seoul removed Tokyo from its whitelist of trusted export partners.

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