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NK, wartime forced labor on agenda in Japan

First Vice Foreign Minister travels to Tokyo for bilateral, trilateral talks with his US, Japanese counterparts

South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong speaks to reporters before taking off for Tokyo, at Gimpo International Airport on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong speaks to reporters before taking off for Tokyo, at Gimpo International Airport on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong traveled to Tokyo to discuss cooperative measures to handle rising North Korean threats with his US and Japanese counterparts on Tuesday.

During his three-day trip, Cho is expected to hold bilateral talks with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo, separately, on Tuesday. A trilateral meeting of the three officials is slated for Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters at airports in South Korea and Japan, Cho said he will be discussing a series of pending issues with the American and Japanese officials to handle the "grave situation" in Northeast Asia.

“The situation is in Northeast Asia is grave, following the series of (military) provocations by North Korea and as (China's) Communist Party Congress ended," Cho told reporters at Gimpo International Airport, before departing for Tokyo.

"We will be comprehensively addressing not only the regional situation but also other international issues derived from global challenges."

On the likely probability of Pyongyang carrying out its 7th nuclear test soon, Cho also said the officials will be discussing comprehensive measures to handle a potential nuclear provocation.

"The need is growing (for a cooperation plan of the three countries). I believe detailed plans will be coordinated among the military authorities (of the three countries),” Cho said.

While it is yet to be discussed whether the three countries will come up with unified sanction measures against North Korea’s possible nuclear test, they will surely discuss their countermeasures in broad terms, Cho added.

Regarding North Korea's military activities, the US State Department reiterated its stance that it is "prepared for all contingencies" and that it will make both short- and long-term adjustments to its military posture to respond to the North's provocation.

"We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our partners and allies around the world," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a regular press briefing on Monday (US time).

The spokesperson also elaborated on how much of Sherman's trip to Tokyo will be dedicated to addressing challenges related to North Korea with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts.

At the same time, Price noted that the US harbors "no hostile intent" towards Pyongyang, calling on the regime to attend to the US’ efforts for dialogue and diplomacy.

Arriving at Haneda Airport in Japan, Cho told reporters that there is a possibility for South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to hold a bilateral summit, on the sidelines of a number of international summits that will take place in November.

In bilateral talks with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo on Tuesday, Cho was to talk about a series of pending issues between the two countries, including solutions to the issue of Japan’s wartime forced labor.

Seoul and Tokyo are at odds over a Korean top court ruling ordering the liquidation of two Japanese companies’ local assets in order to pay compensation to Koreans coerced into labor by the companies during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Regarding local reports in Japan claiming that the two countries are considering an independent foundation to pay the compensation on behalf of the Japanese defendants, Cho said "nothing has been decided."

"The media is reporting that we are considering a foundation-led solution, but it is only one of the options and nothing has been decided yet," Cho said.

The dispute goes back to 2018, when the Supreme Court of Korea ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel to liquidate their assets in Korea and pay the damages to Korean plaintiffs, who sued the firms for forcing them into labor during Japanese colonial rule.

The conflict has dragged on, as the firms refused to accept liability and restated the Japanese government's position that all claims stemming from the colonial period were "settled completely and finally" under a 1965 bilateral agreement.

By Jo He-rim (