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Japan-South Korea rift

Japan summons South Korean envoy over wartime labor row

Kono calls Seoul's arbitration refusal 'rude' as ambassador blasts export curbs

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, left, speaks to Nam Gwan-pyo, South Korea's ambassador to Japan, on July 19. (Photo by Kaisuke Ota)

TOKYO/SEOUL -- Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Friday summoned South Korea's ambassador to protest Seoul's refusal to accept arbitration of their wartime labor row, calling the handling of the dispute "extremely rude."

Kono told Nam Gwan-pyo, the ambassador to Japan, that Tokyo is "very disappointed" with Seoul's decision, announced on Thursday. "What the South Korean government is doing is equal to subverting the international order built after World War II," Kono said.

Nam, in turn, blasted the restrictions Japan imposed earlier this month on exports of certain semiconductor materials to South Korea, saying citizens of both countries "are facing difficulties due to unilateral action taken by Japan." Nam asked Kono to work to resolve the issue.

In January, after South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Nippon Steel to pay compensation for laborers forced to work during the war, Tokyo proposed a bilateral meeting to settle the matter. A number of other Japanese companies are involved in similar cases.

After Seoul rejected the meeting, the Japanese government asked for third-party arbitration in May. South Korea did not respond with its refusal until July 18, the deadline Tokyo had set.

Following his meeting with Nam, Kono issued a statement calling the South Korean Supreme Court's judgment "greatly regrettable and absolutely unacceptable." He stressed Japan would take "necessary actions, considering the difficult relationship between the two countries caused by South Korea."

Tokyo argues all claims for wartime reparations were settled under a bilateral treaty signed in 1965.

Kono stressed to the ambassador that the 1965 treaty was the legal basis for normalizing relations and called on South Korea "to take correction measures," saying Japan would "not allow Seoul to keep the current situation which is in violation of international law."

Japan is urging South Korea to refrain from selling assets seized from Japanese companies as a means of generating cash for the compensation. Government sources said that if Seoul fails to come up with a practical solution, Tokyo would consider further action on top of the export controls, including the possibility of taking the case to the International Court of Justice.

Meanwhile, in Seoul on Friday, South Korea's Trade Ministry held a news conference and repeated calls for a meeting with Japan on the export rules, which took effect on July 4. The ministry said Seoul had proposed talks but had not received a reply from Tokyo.

"If this situation continues," a ministry spokesperson said, "it will negatively impact the global supply chain and consumers around the world."

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