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International relations

Japan execs tell Moon to address wartime labor dispute

South Korean province backs off 'war criminal' stickers on Japanese products

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told foreign business leaders that he hopes for stronger economic exchanges with Japan but that political issues must be treated separately. (Yonhap via Kyodo)

SEOUL -- Japanese business leaders in South Korea on Thursday urged President Moon Jae-in to take appropriate action to address the dispute over wartime labor that has strained bilateral relations.

Tomoyuki Moriyama, who heads Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co.'s South Korean operations, told Moon that he was concerned about the situation affecting business relations. Moriyama, who serves as the chair of the Seoul Japan Club, which has membership of about 400 Japanese companies, said he was confident that Moon would "take appropriate measures."

In response, Moon stressed that economic exchanges and politics "must be viewed separately," according to the presidential Blue House.

"With 10 million people traveling between Japan and South Korea every year," he continued, "I hope broadening personal interactions will help invigorate" exchange between businesses.

Ties between the two countries have chilled over historical grievances involving Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula in the early 1900s. Korean courts recently have ordered Japanese companies such as Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal to pay compensation to South Koreans or their families over forced labor during the war.

A picture from Gyeonggi Province's Office of Education of the sticker deeming a product as being made by a Japanese "war criminal" company. A picture from Gyeonggi Province's Office of Education of the sticker deeming a product as being made by a Japanese "war criminal" company.

The same day, South Korea's largest province signaled that it would shelve legislation to label products from the likes of Nikon and Panasonic as being made by Japanese "war criminal" companies.

The legislation would require schools to put the "war criminal" stickers on products by nearly 300 Japanese companies with price tags of over 200,000 won ($175).

The proposal faced a backlash at home and abroad. Gyeonggi educational authorities called it "difficult to accept." And the Japanese government conveyed its concern to Seoul. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told parliament the proposal needed "careful consideration."

The bill, which still could be introduced later, was intended to "make students aware of the actions of Japanese war criminal companies that have neither publicly apologized nor paid reparations."

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