Seoul’s Plan Must Be Used as Opportunity to Improve Japan-ROK Relations

With Tokyo-Seoul relations at a stalemate, the South Korean government has finally proposed a plan to resolve a pending issue. This must be used as an opportunity to restore friendly ties between the neighboring countries.

The South Korean government has announced that a foundation in South Korea will pay compensation in lieu of the defendant Japanese companies as its plan to resolve the issue of lawsuits concerning former wartime requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

With regard to the issue, the South Korean Supreme Court in 2018 finalized rulings that ordered two Japanese companies to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers among others. Then South Korean President Moon Jae-in made no moves to resolve the issue before his term ended last spring.

The 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea stipulates that the issue of claims between Japan and South Korea “is settled completely and finally.” Although Japanese companies are therefore not obligated to pay compensation, some of the plaintiffs and their support groups are aggressively insisting on the payment of compensation based on the top court rulings.

Under these circumstances, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s decision to give priority to sticking to the agreement is highly commendable. It is hoped that South Korea will make efforts domestically to gain public understanding.

In response to the South Korean announcement, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that there has been no change in the Japanese government’s past positions, including its stance expressed in the 1998 Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration that included an apology and expression of remorse for Japan’s colonial rule.

It is only natural that the prime minister will follow the views of past cabinets. The prime minister’s statement effectively expressed his support for Yoon’s resolution plan.

The Japanese companies will no longer have to pay compensation. The defendant companies are members of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), which at the same time is considering establishing a new fund jointly with a South Korean business organization to provide scholarships to students from Japan and South Korea to study abroad in the other country.

In the past, however, many South Korean administrations have steered toward a hard-line stance against Japan when domestic politics came to a standstill. Japan needs to keep a close eye on future developments to ensure that South Korea does not again drag up the issue of former requisitioned workers.

There are various pending issues between Japan and South Korea. In 2019, the Japanese government removed South Korea from the list of countries and regions in Group A, which is given preferential treatment through simplified export procedures. If bilateral trust is restored over the issue of requisitioned workers, it will have a positive impact on the lifting of this measure.

The South Korean government has reneged on the 2015 agreement that confirmed that the issue of so-called comfort women has been “resolved finally and irreversibly.” The issue of a South Korean military vessel directing its fire-control radar at a Maritime Self-Defense Force patrol aircraft is also unresolved.

It is essential that the governments of Japan and South Korea openly and persistently discuss and resolve such issues one by one.

China is strengthening its hegemonic activities at sea, and North Korea is advancing its nuclear weapon and missile technologies. It is an urgent task for Japan, the United States and South Korea to deepen security cooperation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 7, 2023)