Japan Holds Firm, Waits for South Korea’s Next Move

Reuters file photos
The Japanese flag (L) and South Korean flag (R)

Following South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s speech regarding lawsuits involving former wartime requisitioned workers, the Japanese government is waiting for South Korea’s next move, to see whether Seoul will come up with a solution acceptable to Tokyo.

“Seoul has not referred to any concrete solutions, therefore its stance remains basically unchanged,” a senior Japanese government official said.

The 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between the two countries stipulates that problems and claims had been resolved “completely and finally.” Based on this agreement, Japan provided South Korea with economic cooperation worth $500 million — $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans.

Tokyo has been demanding that Seoul resolve the issue, claiming that the South Korean court ruling ordering Japanese companies to pay damages to former requisitioned workers violates the agreement.

The Japanese government cannot concede its firm position that the Japan side is not liable to pay compensation. Even if South Korea proposes a solution in which Japanese companies are spared the financial burden, the Japanese government is unlikely to accept it if the proposal is based on the premise that Japan is liable.

Regarding the Seoul Central District Court’s ruling ordering the Japanese government to pay compensation to former comfort women, Japan does not even recognize the trial itself. Japan argues that it violates the principle of sovereign immunity under international law, in which the acts of a certain state are not tried in the courts of another state.

Regarding Moon’s remarks, in which he expressed his intention to confer with the Japanese side about the ruling, a person close to the Japanese Foreign Ministry said: “This is not an issue that can be resolved through bilateral talks. South Korea has no option but to lobby the plaintiffs and others to invalidate the lawsuit.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga referred to South Korea as an “important neighbor” in his policy speech on Monday. In contrast, he called it “an extremely important neighboring country” in his first policy speech in October last year, and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used a similar phrase in his policy speech in January 2020.

The latest wording represents a “downgrading” of South Korea and appears to reflect distrust toward that nation, which has not rectified violations of international law.