|Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, enters the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul, Thursday. He had two hours of talks with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Yong-kil, director-general for Northeast Asian affairs at the ministry, to resolve a months-long conflict over a ruling by the top court in Seoul on Korean victims of forced labor. / Yonhap|
By Lee Min-hyung
Directors from South Korea and Japan have held talks to resolve an ongoing dispute on a ruling by Seoul's top court that Japanese firms should compensate Korean victims of forced labor during the 1910-45 Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, the foreign ministry said Thursday.
Kim Yong-kil, director-general for Northeast Asian affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with his Japanese counterpart, Kenji Kanasugi, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the former's headquarters in Seoul. Kanasugi did not respond to any questions from reporters upon his arrival.
But a foreign ministry official told reporters after the meeting that the two countries agreed "in principle" to prevent further conflict. "The directors agreed to avoid further confrontation by stimulating more cooperation in issues mutually interested in," the official said.
The two-hour-long dialogue came in response to a previous one held in Tokyo last month between the two senior diplomats that failed to reach a consensus over the sensitive issue. They met again to seek a breakthrough to end the months-long discord.
The controversy started last October when the Supreme Court here ruled that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries should compensate Koreans mobilized to work for the company during the colonial era. The estimated number of victims of forced labor is between 100,000 and 200,000.
Japan expressed deep disappointment over the ruling, and both sides have since escalated diplomatic tension.
In particular, Tokyo hinted recently at taking a hardline stance unless Seoul "withdraws" the ruling, threatening to impose economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso said his country was considering taking retaliatory measures, such as tariffs and the suspension of visa issuances. Japan claims the issue of compensation was resolved in 1965 when Seoul and Tokyo signed a treaty which outlined the settlement of any such issues regarding the latter's wartime atrocities against the Korean people.
The reported retaliatory move being mulled over by Tokyo has done nothing to relieve intensifying diplomatic tension between the two countries. Japan Tokyo has yet to make public any possible sanctions against South Korea, the foreign ministry said it would continue to keep a close eye on the situation.
"We are refraining from answering details on the hypothetical situation, but the ministry is paying close attention to the issue," an official said.
"The government is looking at whatever possibilities may occur, and will continue urging Japan to be more careful when responding to the issue," the official added.
The foreign ministry said it would keep communicating with its Japanese counterpart through various diplomatic channels, calling on the latter not to aggravate the situation by taking hardline actions.
It remains to be seen whether Tokyo will impose the sanctions, but Seoul is preparing for all possible scenarios and drawing up countermeasures, the ministry said.
If both sides narrow their differences on the issue, Japan will likely request the creation of a mediation committee that will include an official from a third country. No details on this have been confirmed, but the chances are the U.S. may play a mediating role.
But given the obvious disparity in views on the issue, the conflict is likely to deepen. In addition, South Koreans feel particularly emotional when it comes to the wartime history during the colonial era, which raises the possibility that the dispute will not be settled in the near future.