A South Korean court is expected to start considering as early as next month whether to order the sale of South Korea-based assets of Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to compensate Korean plaintiffs for wartime labor, their lawyers said Thursday.
Similar considerations have already begun in South Korea against Nippon Steel Corp., another Japanese company that has been ordered by the country's Supreme Court to pay damages to Koreans over forced labor during World War II.
Japan-South Korea relations have slumped following the pair of top court rulings in 2018. Senior diplomats of both countries were believed to be meeting in Seoul on Thursday to discuss the wartime labor row, among other issues.
Any sale of assets held by the Japanese companies in South Korea is seen as a red line for Tokyo.
Mitsubishi Heavy has defied a November 2018 top court ruling that ordered it to compensate two groups of Korean plaintiffs over their work at factories in Japan during the war.
Its refusal to comply with the compensation order has been in line with the Japanese government's position that claims stemming from its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were "settled completely and finally" under a 1965 bilateral accord.
At the request of the plaintiffs, a district court in March 2019 approved the seizure of the Japanese company's two trademark rights and six patent rights that were presumed to be worth 804 million won ($709,000), according to the lawyers.
On Sept. 7, the Daejeon District Court began soliciting opinions from Mitsubishi Heavy over the prospective sales of its assets on its website -- a process known as notification by public announcement, a team of lawyers and civic group officials that support the plaintiffs said.
The process will be deemed completed on Nov. 10. Once it is completed, the court can start considering whether to order the sale of the company's seized assets.
Even if the court issues the order, it must be delivered through the Japanese government to implement the sale. The Japanese government has refused to receive court documents intended for Mitsubishi Heavy.
A similar notification process was completed against Nippon Steel in early August, prompting a court to consider selling some of the steelmaker's assets in South Korea in earnest.
Also Thursday, senior Foreign Ministry officials of Japan and South Korea held talks in Seoul, local media reported, in what would be the first formal face-to-face working-level talks between the two countries since Yoshihide Suga became Japan's new prime minister in September.
Wartime labor issues were likely on the agenda as well as responses to the coronavirus pandemic at the talks between Shigeki Takizaki, the head of the Japanese ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Jung Han.
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