- Courts had previously authorized the seizure of MHI’s assets in South Korea
- Two women had worked in the Mitsubishi aircraft factory during the war
- Japan says ruling on “flagrant violation of international law”
- Forced labor in wartime divides North Asian neighbors
TOKYO, Sept.28 (Reuters) – Japan has protested a South Korean court order ordering the sale of the seized assets of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate two women subjected to forced labor for the company during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
Support group for South Korean victims of forced labor hailed court ruling as “a step forward” in compensation, but senior Japanese officials warned of serious consequences for already strained diplomatic relations .
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday that the decision the day before by the Daejeon District Court in South Korea was a “clear violation of international law.”
“We must avoid serious repercussions on Japan-South Korea relations,” Motegi said, calling the court ruling “truly regrettable” at a regular press conference in Tokyo.
Motegi said Japan called the vice-consul at the South Korean embassy in Tokyo to protest the verdict, while Mitsubishi Heavy said it would appeal the court ruling.
Relations between the two countries, two important US allies in North Asia, were hampered by the bitter legacy of the Japanese occupation of 1910-1945.
Disagreements over recent rulings on forced wartime labor, including in brothels, have been followed by a dispute over export controls that has yet to be resolved.
The two women, Yang Geum-deok and Kim Sung-joo, worked at a Mitsubishi aircraft factory in Nagoya, Japan, when they were teenagers during World War II.
The Supreme Court of South Korea in 2018 ordered Mitsubishi Heavy (7011.T) to compensate the victims, but the company failed to do so, with Japan arguing the case had been settled under a 1965 treaty.
A subsequent series of South Korean court rulings authorized the seizure of Mitsubishi Heavy’s assets in the country, drawing sharp reprimands from Tokyo. Read more
In the latest ruling, South Korea’s Daejeon District Court ruled on Monday that Mitsubishi Heavy must liquidate two patents and two trademarks among the assets seized in order to pay compensation to the women, both aged 90, according to an official. court.
Compensation for each woman has been estimated at around 210 million won ($ 178,023), according to Japan’s Wartime Forced Labor Victims Support Group.
The court official refused to confirm the value of the assets.
The dispute has become an issue in the battle to become Japan’s next prime minister, but there has been little evidence of an appetite among candidates for compromises to improve bilateral relations.
Reporting by Rocky Swift, Ju-min Park; additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Kim Coghill, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.
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