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

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Otherwise, he said, Japan will resolutely respond with every possible option, including filing a complaint with an worldwide court.

Seoul's supreme courts clarified that individual compensation rights remained valid, despite settling reparations claims at the government level in 1965.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono summoned the South Korean ambassador to protest the ruling and warned Tokyo will bring the case to an worldwide court "if appropriate measures are not taken immediately".

U.S. President Donald Trump earlier said he expects to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after the elections in one of three or four locations.

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

The top court upheld an appeals court ruling in 2013, which ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. Among them, only 94-year-old Lee Chun-sik has survived the legal battle, which extended almost 14 years.

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"I won the case but I am here alone, so I am sad, a lot of tears are coming out", an emotional Lee told reporters after the ruling. "It would have been good if we were still here altogether". South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon said that "denuclearization process is at a critical juncture and we need to meet up as often as possible". The current company, one of the world's largest steel producers, was formed from the merger of several companies after the war.

Japan protested to South Korea on Tuesday over a court ruling ordering a Japanese firm to compensate South Koreans for wartime forced labor, calling it an "unbelievable" judgement that could undermine bilateral relations.

Meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul, Stephen Biegun said that Washington and Seoul have a shared goal of ending seven decades of hostility on the Korean Peninsula.

Japan's Foreign Ministry told Reuters that the issue of compensation was "settled completely and finally" by the 1965 deal. "South Korea and Japan should create a new relationship based on the restoration of their rights".

The court ruled that the former labourers' right to reparation was not terminated by a 1965 treaty normalising diplomatic ties, rejecting the claim by Tokyo and Japanese courts, Yonhap news agency said.

"What is happening right now is unthinkable in terms of global common sense and in a country that upholds the rule of law", Kono said.

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Kim Jin-young, an activist from a group representing South Korean forced labor victims, said the ruling will likely affect the outcomes of more than a dozen similar lawsuits pending in local courts, including a case against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries now with the Supreme Court.

The ruling could exacerbate a diplomatic row between South Korea and Japan over historical issues related to the Japanese colonial rule, including wartime slavery and forced labor.

U.S. officials later said Trump will likely have his second meeting with Kim early next year. "The legal battle may reach a third-country location". At that time, the court sent back such compensation cases, including Nippon Steel's case, to Seoul High Court.

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.

In August this year, the Supreme Court resumed hearings on the damages suit, delivering the final verdict Tuesday.

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