Photo/IllutrationLawyers for former wartime laborers explain their clients’ demand for Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Dec. 4. (Ryuichi Kitano)

SEOUL--With a court-ordered seizure of Japanese assets looming in South Korea, Tokyo requested talks with Seoul to confirm a 1965 agreement that Japan insists settled all wartime compensation claims between the two countries.

Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba asked for the talks on Jan. 9, after summoning Lee Su-hoon, South Korea's ambassador to Japan, to the Foreign Ministry.

Earlier in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that Japan is “aware of the existence of a dispute with respect to the interpretation and the implementation of the agreement.”

This is the first such request by Japan over the bilateral agreement on property and the right to claims stemming from Japan’s wartime control of the Korean Peninsula, then a Japanese colony.

Japan has long argued that all compensation claims had been “settled completely and finally” by the 1965 agreement, which was concluded when the two neighbors restored diplomatic relations.

However, the South Korean Supreme Court in October ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay about 10 million yen ($92,000) in compensation each to four wartime scripted laborers from the Korean Peninsula.

The Japanese government has refused to accept the ruling, citing the 1965 agreement. And the steelmaker did not reply to requests to hold compensation talks by Dec. 24, the deadline set by the plaintiffs.

Two of the plaintiffs took legal action on Dec. 31, and their lawyers acknowledged on Jan. 8 that the Daegu District Court has approved the seizure of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal’s assets.

The assets targeted are 81,075 shares of PNR, a recycling company in South Korea that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal jointly established with POSCO, a leading South Korean steelmaker.

“We are trying to find out details of the matter since we have not received official documents from the South Korean court,” a public relations official at Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal said. “We will respond appropriately, taking into account how the Japanese government is approaching the issue.”

Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal holds 2.34 million shares of PNR, about 30 percent of the total, that are worth 11 billion won (about 1.1 billion yen or $10.1 million).

The shares are expected to be seized as soon as the district court documents arrive at PNR.

However, the plaintiffs did not demand a court order for the sale of the shares, although that has been standard procedure in requests for seizures of stocks. Their lawyers said they wanted to improve the chances of finding a solution to the compensation issue.

The plaintiffs and their lawyers said the seizure of the shares is not expected to disrupt PNR’s business operations or cause damage. But the seizure will mean that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal cannot transfer, sell or buy PNR shares.

The plaintiffs also pledged to forgo cashing in the shares for the time being. However, they said they will move to request the sale of the shares if the Japanese company does not promptly come to the negotiation table.

(This article was written by Yoshihiro Makino in Seoul and Kentaro Uechi and Tamiyuki Kihara in Tokyo.)