Seoul Explains Plan for Foundation to Cover Wartime Labor Compensation

Judges of South Korea’s Supreme Court sit as Lee Choon-shik (obscured), victim of wartime forced labor during the Japanese colonial period, attends to hear the court ruling in Seoul, South Korea, October 30, 2018.

SEOUL (Jiji Press) — South Korea’s Foreign Ministry in an open debate on Thursday explained a plan for an existing public benefit foundation to pay compensation to South Koreans requisitioned to work for Japanese firms during World War II on behalf of the companies.

Seo Min-jung, director-general for Asian and Pacific affairs at the ministry, indicated at the session that it would be difficult for plaintiffs of wartime labor lawsuits to get an apology from the defendant Japanese companies.

At the same time, she said that the Japanese side needs to uphold and pass on to future generations its heartfelt apology and remorse.

Seo indicated readiness to continue to work on gaining the understanding of the plaintiffs for the compensation plan toward resolving the wartime labor issue, saying that the South Korean government will make sure to ask victims and bereaved families whether they will receive the money from the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan and to seek their consent.

At the open debate, held at the National Assembly, the foundation reported progress in its preparations for the compensation payment. The organization noted that Japanese companies would unlikely provide it with necessary funding despite a request from the plaintiffs’ side, while vowing to aim for establishing a special law for aiding victims of the wartime labor.

South Korea’s Supreme Court has ordered the Japanese companies to pay compensation to wartime laborers in some lawsuits, while the Japanese government takes the position that the wartime labor issue was resolved by a 1965 bilateral agreement on property and claims.

The open debate is seen as the last of the steps before formalizing a solution to the wartime labor issue. The South Korean government is expected to announce the plan to have the foundation shoulder the compensation payment after final discussions.

Through the latest event, the government hoped to obtain public understanding.

Some of the plaintiffs who are critical of the plan, however, opted not to attend the event.

Before the debate, supporters of the plaintiffs, opposition lawmakers and others gathered in front of the National Assembly building and urged the government to withdraw the compensation plan, which they claim is humiliating and disregards the wartime laborers’ human rights and dignity.

At a press conference in Tokyo Thursday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined to comment on the South Korean government plan.

Instead, the top Japanese government spokesman said, “We hope to keep in close contact with the South Korean government in order to restore our ties to a healthy state and further enhance the bilateral relationship,” noting that Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol agreed at their meeting last November that the two nations will work to resolve pending issues swiftly.