Wed, Oct 31, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Japan denounces S Korean ruling on forced labor

WARTIME:Japan would consider taking the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling against Nippon Steel to the international court, a top official said

AFP, SEOUL

Lee Chun-sik, center, arrives in a wheelchair to attend a court hearing at the Supreme Court in Seoul yesterday.

Photo: EPA

South Korea’s top court yesterday ordered a Japanese steel giant to pay compensation over forced wartime labor, triggering a new row between the two US allies and a denunciation by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Yesterday’s ruling marks the final South Korean chapter in a 21-year legal battle against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal.

The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that the firm pay each of four plaintiffs — only one of whom is still alive — 100 million won (US$88,000) for being forced to work at its steel mills between 1941 and 1943.

The sole surviving claimant, Lee Chun-sik, now in his mid-90s, attended the hearing in a wheelchair and was visibly overcome after the ruling.

“I’m just very sad that I am the only one remaining,” Lee told reporters, teary-eyed and choking.

Two South Koreans initially brought the case to a Japanese court in 1997 seeking damages and unpaid wages for forced labor at steel mills owned by a predecessor company of Nippon Steel.

Japanese courts dismissed the case, saying their right to sue had been extinguished by the 1965 treaty which saw Seoul and Tokyo restore diplomatic relations and included a reparations package of about US$800 million in grants and cheap loans.

However, the victims — along with two others, including Lee — launched a separate action in South Korea in 2005.

In 2012, the Supreme Court in Seoul ruled that the company was liable.

Yesterday’s decision dismissed Nippon Steel’s final appeal over the amount of the award.

No further appeal is possible in the South Korean courts.

Abe criticized the ruling, saying it was “impossible” under international law and that the issue had been “completely and finally settled” by the 1965 treaty.

“The Japanese government will deal firmly with this issue,” Abe told lawmakers in Tokyo.

Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono summoned the South Korean ambassador to protest the ruling and said that Tokyo would bring the case to an international court “if appropriate measures are not taken immediately.”

The ruling “could have a negative impact on the Japan-South Korea relationship,” Kono said, adding that he hoped Seoul would take action to avoid that.

Nippon Steel called the court decision “deeply regrettable.”

It would “carefully review” the ruling, it said, “taking into account the Japanese government’s responses on this matter and other factors.”

Authorities in Seoul, who need to tread a line between popular resentment of Japan’s past action and diplomatic ties with Tokyo, issued a carefully worded statement.

The government “respected” the court ruling, the South Korean prime minister’s office said, and was “saddened by the pain the forced labor victims had to endure.”

“The government hopes to improve South Korea-Japan bilateral relations in a future-oriented manner,” it added.

According to official Seoul data, about 780,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labor by Japan during the 35-year occupation, not including the women forced to work in wartime brothels.

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