South Korean plan aims to heal forced labor feud
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA >> South Korea took a step toward improving ties with its traditional rival Japan on Monday, announcing a plan to compensate Koreans who performed forced labor during Tokyo's colonial rule that doesn't require Japanese companies to contribute to the reparations.
The plan reflects conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol's push to mend frayed ties with Japan and solidify security cooperation among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to better cope with North Korea's nuclear threats. President Joe Biden quickly hailed it as “a groundbreaking new chapter” of cooperation between two of the United States' closest allies.
The South Korean plan, which relies on money raised in South Korea, drew immediate, domestic backlash from former forced laborers and their supporters. They've demanded direct compensation from the Japanese companies and a fresh apology from the Japanese government.
Ties between Seoul and Tokyo have long been complicated by grievances related to Japan's brutal rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when hundreds of thousands of Koreans were mobilized as forced laborers for Japanese companies, or sex slaves at Tokyo's militaryrun brothels during World War II.
Many forced laborers are already dead and survivors are in their 90s. Among the 15 victims involved in 2018 South Korean court rulings that ordered two Japanese companies — Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — to compensate them, only three are still alive and they are all in their 90s.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin told a televised news conference the victims would be compensated through a local state-run foundation that would be funded by civilian donations. He said South Korea hopes that Japanese companies would also make voluntary contributions to the foundation.
“If we compare it to a glass of water, I think that the glass is more than half full with water. We expect that the glass will be further filled moving forward based on Japan's sincere response,” Park said.
Later Monday, Yoon called the South Korean step “a determination to move toward future-oriented Korea-Japan ties.” He said both governments must strive to help their relations enter a new era, according to Yoon's office.
South Korean officials didn't elaborate on which companies would finance the foundation. But in January, Shim Kyu-sun, chairperson of the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan, which would be handling the reparations, said the funds would come from South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 Seoul-Tokyo treaty that normalized their relations.