SEOUL -- A fresh diplomatic row erupted between Seoul and Tokyo after Japan expressed regret and lodged a protest against a decision by South Korea's highest court to acknowledge individual rights to compensation for forced labor during Japan's colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court in Seoul upheld a 2013 ruling that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. (NSSM) to pay 100 million won ($87,720) to four Korean victims who were forced to work for the steel company, wrapping up their legal battle that lasted for more than 13 years in Japanese and South Korean courts. Three have died.
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the ruling is "very regrettable and totally unacceptable." Japan is considering "every option" probably to bring the case to an international court, he said as his office summoned Seoul's top envoy in Tokyo, Lee Su-hoon, to lodge a protest.
South Korea has yet to make an official response. "The government is telling Japan that both countries need to gather wisdom so that the ruling does not negatively affect their relationship," Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk told reporters.
Tuesday's ruling paved the way for a flurry of suits by the victims of forced labor by Japan. Tens of thousands of Koreans were forced to work under harsh conditions for Japan, but many victims have died. South Korean government data showed that there were 6,570 survivors as of October.
Ties between the two Asian neighbors have been in the doldrums for years, with South Korea insisting that Japan should apologize and make amends for abuses during its colonial rule. In particular, Seoul wants Tokyo to address the issue of women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
Japan has insisted colonial-era issues were settled in a 1965 agreement that restored diplomatic ties with the payment of $500 million. However, supreme court justices ruled that they cannot accept the Japanese court's ruling because it ran against South Korea's constitutional value and was based on the premise that forced labor during Japan's colonial rule was legitimate.
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