ROK presidential candidate demands apology from Japan over requisitioned workers

Hiroshi Uesugi / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Lee Jae-myung speaks at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday.

SEOUL — Lee Jae-myung, the ruling Democratic Party’s official candidate for next year’s presidential election, said the issue of former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula “could reach a realistic solution with a sincere apology [from Japan]” during a press conference at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Thursday.

The 56-year-old former governor of Gyeonggi Province will run in the March election to decide who will succeed President Moon Jae-in.

“The government cannot get involved in the judiciary,” Lee said, referring to a 2018 top court ruling, ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers and other plaintiffs. “Not enforcing the judgment is impossible,” he added.

Lee indicated that an apology from Japan would be necessary, saying “The victims’ ultimate goal is to receive an apology, rather than the money.”

Although he stressed he would “take bold action to improve” relations with Japan, he also touched on the issue of the Takeshima islands in Shimane Prefecture, which are called Dokdo in South Korea.

“Japan has been provocative, claiming the territorial rights of Dokdo, and has not apologized for historical issues,” he said.

Lee has referred to Japan as an “enemy nation” before.

In response to a question about the comment, he said: “In the past, we have seen glimpses of [Japan’s] desire to expand into the continent. More recently, it has attempted to attack our economy [with strict export controls]. We can’t help but be vigilant.”

Regarding North Korea, Lee questioned the policy of placing sanctions on the country to realize its denuclearization.

“Have the [economic] sanctions and pressure achieved any results?” he said, indicating that he would adopt a conciliatory approach similar to that of the Moon administration.

Lee also stressed he would aim for balanced diplomacy regarding relations with the United States and China, saying “My pragmatic diplomacy that puts our national interests first is founded upon the solid advancement of ROK-U.S. alliance and the promotion of the strategic cooperative relations with China.”