S Korean Supreme Court orders Nippon Steel to compensate wartime forced laborers

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Friction likely as Korean court orders Nippon Steel to compensate WWII workers

South Korea's highest court on Tuesday ordered a Japanese firm to provide compensation for the victims' forced labor during World War II, according to the court's press release.

South Korea's Supreme Court has ordered a Japanese company to pay 4 Korean men 88 thousand dollars each. "We will wait for its decision", Kono told reporters at the Foreign Ministry following phone talks with Kang.

If the court upholds the order that the company pays compensation, the former labourers could request a seizure of Nippon Steel's property in South Korea, which could lead to an global arbitration, said Jin Chang-soo, president of the Sejong Institute think-tank. The Supreme Court in 2012 overturned rulings by lower courts that denied compensation for the plaintiffs and sent the case back to the Seoul High Court, which in 2013 ruled that the company compensate the plaintiffs 100 million won each.

The court's final decision is likely to have a significant impact on Japanese-South Korean ties, politically and economically, as Japanese firms involved in similar lawsuits could face similar outcomes. Many South Koreans believe Seoul settled for far too little in that agreement and have been calling for the disbanding of a Seoul-based foundation established to support the victims with a 1 billion yen ($9 million) fund provided by Japan.

The Japanese government insisted that all claims between Seoul and Tokyo were resolved through the treaty, under which Japan offered reparations.

But Tuesday's decision by South Korea's top court found that the right of the plaintiffs to file claims as individuals had not expired, despite the accord with Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said that Japan would respond firmly.

Japanese courts dismissed the case, saying their right to sue had been extinguished by the 1965 treaty.

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Nippon Steel said the verdict was "deeply regrettable" and that it would review it before taking any next steps.

But the country's Supreme Court upended those rulings in 2012.

"Japan will take resolute action, considering all options available including an global trial", Foreign Minister Taro Kono said, suggesting that Japan may file a complaint with the worldwide Court of Justice.

The North Korean leader said he has learned from his father Kim Jong Il's example and is ruling out a return to the planned economic environment, the South Korean activist said. Kono said Tokyo will weigh "every option", including taking the matter to an global court unless appropriate action is taken by Korea immediately.

South Korea's foreign ministry, under a previous government, said that a seizure of assets could drive relations into an " irreversible catastrophe".

Despite Tokyo's efforts to foster bilateral relations with Seoul in a forward-looking manner, wartime history continues to cast a pall over ties.

Tuesday's ruling eliminated the "room for diplomacy" and Japan could take the case to worldwide arbitration, though South Korea is not a member of the global Court of Justice, said Jin Chang-soo, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank south of Seoul.

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