According to the court ruling, assets of Japanese companies that used forced labor during World War II can be seized starting from Tuesday midnight when the public notice of seizure expires. This is the latest development after the Supreme Court of South Korea ordered Nippon Steel to pay each forced labor victim 100 million won in compensation on October 30, 2018.
The asset liquidation has been considered a ticking bomb. The Japanese government has already threatened retaliation, saying that it could introduce stricter visa requirements or call in the Japanese ambassador to South Korea. It is reportedly considering imposing higher tariffs on South Korean imports and restrictions on remittance.
The South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling on forced labor has been a bone of contention for Seoul and Tokyo for the last two years, locking the two nations in a cycle of retaliation. The Japanese government imposed trade restrictions on three materials last July and removed South Korea from “the white list,” to which South Korea responded by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization and deciding to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Against this backdrop, the selling of Japanese companies’ assets could only exacerbate the dispute.
Experts say that the expiry of the public notice would not initiate the liquidation process immediately. The problem is that, although the liquidation is inevitable, both the South Korean and Japanese governments are not taking any action to resolve the issue and will highly likely leave it unresolved given the political climate. South Korea has a presidential election in spring 2022 while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s approval rating is falling.
The two nations have never seen eye to eye on the ruling on forced labor, and this might not change any time soon. Political leaders of both nations have been accused of using the conflicts for politics. “It seems impossible to expect the two nations to find a solution,” wrote the Tokyo Shimbun, suggesting Japanese companies and South Korean victims find ways to be reconciled.
Discussions between parliaments and experts of the two countries, which were conducted briefly behind the scenes last year, should be resumed. Politicians and experts should discuss solutions in their own countries and then come together to create a shared proposal for the governments. This issue can no longer wait embroiled in emotional conflict. We need a more level-headed approach to end the ongoing conflict and promote cooperation.