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Japan's Kono wants progress in resolving wartime labour feud with Seoul

Japan's Kono wants progress in resolving wartime labour feud with Seoul
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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Wednesday said he wanted to see progress toward resolving a feud with South Korea over compensating Korean wartime workers that has put a deep chill on ties between Washington’s two Asian allies.

Kono, speaking outside Beijing after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, also said Japan wanted Seoul and Tokyo to maintain a military intelligence-sharing pact that could expire if South Korea decides not to roll it over this month.

“This is an important framework for the United States, Japan and South Korea and … should be maintained,” Kono said, adding that he had discussed the intelligence pact with Kang, but declining to give details.

Kono told reporters the biggest problem between Japan and South Korea was the dispute over compensation for Koreans who worked in Japanese factories and mines during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean peninsula. The two sides shared a recognition of the need to settle the dispute, he added.

“In that sense, I want to firmly make progress towards resolving (this matter),” Kono said, adding he was hopeful given that the two sides were able to talk.

Relations soured last October after the South Korean Supreme Court ordered some Japanese firms to compensate Korean wartime workers, a move strongly condemned by Tokyo, which says the matter was resolved by a 1965 treaty normalising ties.

The feud has spilled over into trade, after Japan tightened export controls on materials vital to South Korean chipmakers and then dropped Seoul from a list of countries eligible for fast-track exports, prompting South Korea to take a similar step towards Japan.

Kono also urged both China and South Korea to scrap import curbs on produce from areas around Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster site, where three reactors melted down after an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Seoul said on Wednesday it would double radiation testing of some Japanese food imported into South Korea, for fear of potential contamination from the Fukushima plant.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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