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S. Korea-Japan business leaders meeting postponed due to thorny ties

This photo taken in May 2018 shows a meeting between Japanese and South Korean business leaders in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- A meeting between South Korean and Japanese business leaders planned for May in Seoul has been postponed as ties between the two countries have chilled, according to its South Korean organizer.

The postponement of the annual gathering at least until September follows a series of rulings in South Korean courts that have ordered Japanese firms to compensate Koreans for conscripted labor during World War II, drawing rebuke from Japan.

"South Korea-Japan ties have recently faced enormous difficulties due to many controversial issues," the Korea-Japan Economic Association said in a statement on its website. "Given such a situation, we have decided to postpone the meeting."

The meeting has been held every year in Japan and South Korea alternately since 1969. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the opening ceremony of last year's meeting in Tokyo.

The South Korean organizer's Japanese counterpart has also announced the postponement of this year's gathering. The Japan-Korea Economic Association, in a statement, called on the South Korean government to take "appropriate measures" to protect the legitimate activities of Japanese firms.

It added that it is looking forward to holding this year's meeting in a "good environment" where progress has been made in dialogue between the governments of Japan and South Korea.

Since a South Korean Supreme Court ruling in October ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate for wartime forced labor, South Korean courts have issued similar rulings against it and other Japanese companies.

But the companies have refused to engage in talks with the plaintiffs' lawyers or compensate them, in line with the Japanese government's position that the issue of claims stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has already been settled through a 1965 accord.

Lawyers for South Koreans who won a case in the top court against Nippon Steel said last month they would soon start the process of liquidating the steelmaker's South Korean assets already seized.

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