Suga Refuses to Visit Korea Until Asset Seizure Order Lifted

  • By Lee Ha-won

    October 05, 2020 11:15

    New Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has told the Korean government he will not pay an official visit unless a court order here authorizing the seizure of Japanese firms' assets to compensate forced labor victims is resolved.

    Since the seizure was ordered by an independent Korean court after Nippon Steel refused to comply with an order to compensate the victims, there is no hope of the executive overturning it.

    That means a planned trilateral summit in Seoul between the leaders of Korea, Japan and China in December is unlikely to go ahead.

    Yoshihide Suga /Yonhap

    On Oct. 30, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to pay W100 million each to four Koreans who were forced to labor for it during World War II (US$1=W1,169). When the Japanese steelmaker refused to pay up, the plaintiffs sought a court order to seize the stocks of a Korean joint venture between Nippon and POSCO.

    In January last year, the Daegu District Court authorized the seizure of 81,075 shares in POSCO-Nippon Steel RFH (PNR) worth about W400 million at W5,000 per share. The plaintiffs applied in May the same year to have the shares sold off.

    A diplomatic source in Tokyo said, "Prime Minister Suga is afraid of the backlash among his support base if Japanese corporate assets are sold in the early stage of his tenure. As long as the Korean government refuses to give its word, he will not visit Seoul even if the trilateral summit takes place there."

    Japan's Foreign Ministry has already informed the Korean government. Suga spent the last eight years as faithful servant to Abe in his capacity as chief cabinet secretary and seems determined to stick to the line that all claims for compensation were settled by lump sum reparations in 1965.

    The Supreme Court here ruled in 2018 that a treaty between government's cannot override the claims of individual victims.

    Kyodo News quoted a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as saying late last month that it "makes no sense" for the leader of Japan to visit Korea when the prospect of selling the Nippon Steel shares remains a strong possibility.

    Suga is also more generally sticking to his predecessor's line of denial of wartime guilt. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, who started a Europe trip last week, has asked the German government to remove a statue commemorating Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces during World War II.

    The statue was set up in a public square in Berlin at the initiative of a local Korean civic group last month. In a conference call on Sept. 30 with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, who was in self-isolation, Motegi said that the statue "goes against the position of the Japanese government" and requested its removal.

    Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato also said the statue is "not compatible" with the Japanese government's position and vowed to continue to call for its removal.

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