Japan yesterday flatly rejected as “unacceptable” a South Korean proposal to set up a joint fund to compensate wartime forced laborers, a bitter dispute that has bogged down bilateral ties.
The proposed fund would not solve the issue, the top government spokesman told a regular news conference in Tokyo.
“The South Korean proposal is utterly unacceptable,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. “We will continue to urge South Korea to agree to arbitration.”
Relations between the two US allies have been increasingly strained by a series of rulings from South Korean courts ordering Japanese firms that used wartime forced labor to compensate victims.
The Japanese government and the firms involved have rejected the rulings, with Tokyo saying the issue was settled when the two nations normalized relations.
Last month, Tokyo proposed the issue be put to arbitration under the terms of an agreement signed by the two nations in 1965, when ties were normalized.
The agreement calls for the two nations to set up an arbitration panel if they cannot resolve a dispute through diplomatic negotiations.
South Korea on Wednesday offered a counterproposal that would see South Korean and Japanese firms — including those involved in the court cases — set up a voluntary fund to compensate the victims.
“If Tokyo accepts our offer, our government is willing to review the Japanese government’s request [to discuss the issue],” Seoul said in a statement.
Japan and South Korea are both democracies, market economies and US allies, but their relationship has been strained for decades as a result of Tokyo’s brutal 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The tense ties between Tokyo and Seoul come amid diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up his nuclear weapons, to ease one of the key security risks for the region.
When relations were normalized, Tokyo agreed a reparations package that included grants and cheap loans intended to cover victims of various wartime policies.
Japan argues that package should have permanently resolved the issue.
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