Wartime la­bor rul­ings cast dark clouds on Ja­pan-s. Korea ties

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - W Eekend | Japan- Southkorea -

DE­SPITE the need for closer co­op­er­a­tion in achiev­ing a de­nu­cle­arised Korean Penin­sula, the fu­ture of Ja­pan­south Korea re­la­tions looks to be in­creas­ingly hang­ing in the balance af­ter South Korea’s top court or­dered Ja­panese com­pa­nies to pay com­pen­sa­tion over wartime forced la­bor.

Find­ing their ties fraught with chal­lenges be­cause of wartime his­tory, Tokyo and Seoul have been trad­ing barbs since the first top court rul­ing in Oc­to­ber.

The lat­est com­pen­sa­tion or­der is­sued Thurs­day to Mit­subishi Heavy In­dus­tries Ltd. added to the woes. The de­ci­sion trig­gered a swift and sharp re­sponse from Tokyo, which urged Seoul to take “ap­pro­pri­ate” steps promptly.

“It is a breach of in­ter­na­tional law and we are in a sit­u­a­tion where main­tain­ing ties be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea could be­come dif­fi­cult” due to the im­pact of the rul­ings, Ja­panese For­eign Min­is­ter Taro Kono said.

“As some­one who hopes to de­velop bi­lat­eral ties, I’m deeply con­cerned that the South Korean gov­ern­ment has yet to do any­thing,” the min­is­ter said. “It goes be­yond whether the lan­guage used by Ja­pan’s for­eign min­is­ter is strong or not.”

Kono also said the rul­ings “over­throw the very le­gal foun­da­tion” of bi­lat­eral ties since the 1965 nor­mal­i­sa­tion of diplo­matic re­la­tions.

Ja­pan main­tains that the is­sue of com­pen­sa­tion was set­tled un­der a 1965 agree­ment with South Korea on the set­tle­ment of prob­lems re­lated to prop­erty and claims. But the South Korean court said the right of vic­tims of forced mo­bil­i­sa­tion un­der Ja­pan’s “il­le­gal” colo­nial rule to seek com­pen­sa­tion was not ter­mi­nated by the ac­cord.

The re­cent court de­ci­sions are ex­pected to af­fect sim­i­lar wartime la­bor cases. The Korean Penin­sula was un­der Ja­panese colo­nial rule be­tween 1910 and 1945.

Kono’s re­marks came as Tokyo of­fi­cials wait to see how the South Korean gov­ern­ment will re­spond to the re­cent de­vel­op­ments, with one source say­ing, “The ball is in their court.”

South Korea’s For­eign Min­istry, for its part, said Seoul will re­spect the rul­ings and ex­pressed con­cern about Tokyo’s “over­re­ac­tion” to them. The coun­try is ex­pected to draw up mea­sures to ad­dress the com­pen­sa­tion is­sue.

Such ex­changes of criticism have raised con­cern about a widen­ing rift be­tween Tokyo and Seoul at a time when not only bi­lat­eral but tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion with their com­mon ally the United States is seen as crit­i­cal in deal­ing with North Korea.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­perts stress the im­por­tance of a cool-headed ap­proach by both sides.

“The bot­tom line is the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment and the South Korean top court dif­fer on their in­ter­pre­ta­tions (of the 1965 bi­lat­eral agree­ment),” said Osamu Ota, a pro­fes­sor well-versed in mod­ern Korean his­tory at Doshisha Univer­sity in Ky­oto. “But it is far from a ‘reck­less move’ (as de­scribed by Ja­pan).”

Wartime his­tory con­tin­ues to cast a shadow over Ja­pan-south Korea re­la­tions de­spite the na­tions forg­ing close eco­nomic ties cou­pled with ac­tive peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes.

This year marked the 20th an­niver­sary of a joint dec­la­ra­tion aimed at de­vel­op­ing fu­ture-ori­ented ties and the two coun­tries had sought to “man­age” dif­fi­cul­ties stem­ming from their wartime past.

But in a sign of cool­ing bi­lat­eral ties, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe did not hold sum­mit talks with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae In when both vis­ited Sin­ga­pore and Pa­pua New Guinea for re­gional gath­er­ings in mid-novem­ber.

The chances ap­pear low of sub­stan­tive talks be­tween the Ja­panese and South Korean lead­ers on the fringes of the up­com­ing Group of 20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires this week­end.

The gath­er­ing comes just days af­ter South Korea de­cided to dis­solve a Ja­pan-funded foun­da­tion set up un­der a 2015 bi­lat­eral agree­ment de­signed to fi­nally and ir­re­versibly set­tle the is­sue of “com­fort women,” who were forced to work in wartime Ja­panese mil­i­tary broth­els.

Some law­mak­ers from Abe’s rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party have been step­ping up calls on the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to take coun­ter­mea­sures, in­clud­ing tak­ing cases re­lated to wartime la­bor to the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice.

Af­ter the South Korean top court rul­ing in Oc­to­ber, the Ja­panese For­eign Min­istry cre­ated a divi­sion to deal with is­sues per­tain­ing to com­pen­sa­tion claims.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment has con­tacted com­pa­nies in­volved in wartime la­bor law­suits to seek un­der­stand­ing over its stance that they should not abide by rul­ings up­hold­ing in­di­vid­ual com­pen­sa­tion claims by South Kore­ans.

Tokyo threat­ened Thurs­day to take coun­ter­mea­sures depending on South Korea’s re­sponse, with­out giv­ing fur­ther de­tails.

Doshisha Univer­sity’s Ota ar­gues Ja­pan needs to stick to the spirit of the 1998 joint dec­la­ra­tion and leave the door open for di­a­logue.

The is­sues of forced mo­bil­i­sa­tion and la­bor as wells as com­fort women can­not be solved quickly be­cause they boil down to how the vic­tims over­come their past, ac­cord­ing to Ota.

In the 1998 doc­u­ment, then Prime Min­is­ter Keizo Obuchi said Ja­pan caused “tremen­dous dam­age and suf­fer­ing to the peo­ple of the Repub­lic of Korea through its colo­nial rule” and ex­pressed “deep re­morse and heart­felt apol­ogy for this fact.”

Over­com­ing the past is “some­thing that we need to con­tinue think­ing about now and in the fu­ture through di­a­logue be­tween the peo­ples of Ja­pan and South Korea,” Ota said.

Photo: Ky­odo

Kim Seong Ju (L), one of the plain­tiffs in a dam­ages suit in­volv­ing Kore­ans who were forced to work in Ja­pan dur­ing World War II, speaks to re­porters in Seoul on Novem­ber 29.

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