Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Monday that the Japanese government cannot accept an offer by South Korea to form a joint fund by the two countries’ companies to pay damages to victims of forced labor and that the wartime labor dispute issue should be resolved through an arbitration panel.
In an e-mail interview with the Dong-A Ilbo, Japan’s top diplomat said that Seoul’s proposal that “both parties (South Korea and Japan) should find a diplomatic solution or bring their collective wisdom together shows that the South Korean government hasn’t realized the significance of the circumstances.”
Kono called the wartime labor row “the biggest obstacle to improving today’s Japan-South Korea relationship,” stressing that South Korea unilaterally overturned the international pledge (the bilateral accord settled in 1965) after over five decades. This signals that the Japanese government is taking the South Korean court rulings and follow-up measures seriously and associating them with its bilateral ties with Seoul.
Still, Kono added that it is important to continue dialogue between the two countries’ foreign ministries. “Though the Japan-South Korea relations have been frayed, we are planning to continuously coordinate with South Korea on issues including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” he said, calling for people-to-people exchanges to be continued.