A South Korean court approved a request by plaintiffs to seize part of the local assets of Nippon Steel on January 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS
A South Korean court approved a request by plaintiffs to seize part of the local assets of Nippon Steel on January 8 2019. Picture: REUTERS

Tokyo — Japan has  demanded talks with South Korea over a Korean court compensation award against a Japanese company for using forced labourers during World War 2, saying all such claims were settled decades ago.

South Korea, for its part, called for calm.

Ties between the Asian neighbours have been frosty since the court ruled in October that Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp should pay 100-million won ($90,500) to each of four South Korean plaintiffs. The court on Tuesday approved a request by the plaintiffs to seize assets held by Nippon Steel in South Korea.

Japan’s foreign ministry summoned South Korea’s ambassador to demand consultation, based on an article of a 1965 treaty that normalised ties between the two sides. It was the first time the article had been invoked, the ministry said.

Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the court decision was “extremely regrettable”.

Call to keep calm

South Korea’s foreign ministry called for Japan to keep calm. “Causing unnecessary conflicts and animosity doesn’t help resolve the problem at all,” the ministry said in a statement. “It is necessary to manage the situation in a cool-headed and cautious manner.”

Nippon Steel said its joint venture with South Korean steelmaker  Posco had received a notice from the court. Asked whether it has any direct effect on the company’s South Korean business, a company spokeswoman declined to comment.

“We will consult with the Japanese government and take an appropriate measure,” the spokeswoman said.

She reiterated that there was no change in the company’s stance that all matters concerning wartime reparations were settled under the 1965 agreements.

Posco declined to comment and there was no immediate comment from South Korea’s foreign ministry.

Japan has urged South Korea to take appropriate steps to avoid measures unfair to Japanese companies.

The two countries share a bitter history that includes Japan’s 1910-45 colonisation of the Korean peninsula, the forced mobilisation of labour at Japanese companies and the use of comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.

The rows over wartime history have long been a hurdle for relations at a time when there is a need for concerted efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

The two sides are also embroiled in a dispute over whether a South Korean warship had locked its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol plane in December. 

Reuters