S. Korea-Japan spat deepens over Mitsubishi case

SEOUL • A diplomatic spat between South Korea and Japan deepened yesterday after the Supreme Court in Seoul ruled that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd was liable to pay compensation to victims of forced labour in two court cases dating back to World War II.

The court said yesterday that Mitsubishi Heavy must pay between 100 million won (RM372,020) and 150 million won to each of five plaintiffs who had sued over being forced to work for a military factory during the 1910-1945 colonial period. The court also upheld another lower court ruling that Mitsubishi Heavy must pay 80 million won to each of five victims of forced labour or their families.

The rulings come about a month after the Supreme Court found Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp liable in a similar case. Japan has condemned the decisions, saying the cases were settled by the 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the two sides — a pact that came with a US$300 million (RM1.25 billion) payment.

While the compensation amounts in the latest case are easily manageable, the rulings strike at the heart of a fraught history between the two US allies that risks hurting relations in other areas.

“This is a situation that makes it difficult to maintain ties between Japan and South Korea,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (picture) said. “The South Korean government must take swift steps to remedy the situation,” he added, saying he was very worried nothing had been done since the previous verdict. Mitsubishi Heavy said it would take unspecified “appropriate measures” while communicating with the Japanese government.

According to Japan, 15 similar cases have been filed by South Koreans who say they worked for 69 companies during the Japanese occupation.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon expressed concern over Japan’s “ extreme” reactions to the local court ruling, issuing an unusual statement that said Japanese officials were creating a diplomatic row.

Japan’s reactions continued to be “excessive” Noh Kyuduk, spokesman for South Korea’s foreign ministry, said yesterday. — Bloomberg