South Korea fails to answer Japan’s request for talks on looming asset seizure linked to wartime labor ruling

South Korea has failed to respond to Japan’s request to launch talks as a major Japanese steel-maker faces the imminent seizure of assets in connection with a Korean court decision regarding the issue of wartime labor, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Friday.

Friday was the 30-day deadline for Seoul to respond to whether it will accept Tokyo’s request for bilateral consultations to resolve the asset seizure issue.

The move came after Japan warned South Korea it will take “countermeasures” if Seoul moves ahead with selling any assets seized from the Japanese company, which has refused to pay compensation for wartime forced labor.

Tokyo maintains the issue of compensation was settled under an agreement attached to the 1965 treaty that normalized ties between Japan and South Korea, and views the ruling as a breach.

Options floated within the Japanese government include raising tariffs on South Korean imports and recalling Japan’s ambassador to Seoul, which would worsen bilateral ties already marred by disputes over the wartime labor issue, as well as recent military incidents.

The row stems from a ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in October that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay compensation for wartime forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

The steel-maker has not followed the compensation order and was notified by a South Korean district court of the looming seizure of its assets on Jan. 9.

The court, however, has stopped short of ordering any sale of the assets as the South Korean plaintiffs are seeking to reach an out-of-court settlement.

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