‘Unexpected’ South Korea Court Decision in Favor of ‘Comfort Women’ Puts Damper on Improving Ties with Japan

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands during the Japan-South Korea summit on March 16.

SEOUL — In contrast to a recent pattern of reasonable judgments by the South Korean judiciary, the Seoul High Court on Thursday overturned a lower court ruling and ordered the Japanese government to pay compensation to former wartime comfort women.

When the high court judge handed down the ruling that fully recognized plaintiffs’ claims, sounds of surprise erupted from the plaintiffs and their supporters in the courtroom.

“We did not expect to win the case and had been thinking about appealing,” a supporter said at a press conference.

South Korean courts have in the past issued rulings in line with harsh public opinion toward Japan.

More recently, the courts made rational judgments on cases related to historical and bilateral issues, such as the lawsuit involving the author of the academic work “Comfort Women of the Empire” and another over a Buddhist statue stolen from a temple in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture.

These judgments had one Japanese government official believe that “signs of change can be seen in the Korean judiciary.”

The administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol had announced and implemented solutions to the pending issues caused by South Korean court decisions, such as lawsuits concerning former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

Thursday’s decision, however, has put a damper on these efforts.

After the ruling, left-leaning newspaper Hankyoreh said in its editorial that the decision has great historical and legal significance.

For Japan, the fear is that the latest ruling has made historical issues between the two nations even more complicated.