South Korea to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime pressured labor


SEOUL — South Korea on Monday mentioned it is going to compensate laborers who had been pressured to work for Japanese firms throughout colonization within the first half of the twentieth century, a landmark transfer towards resolving a dispute that has bedeviled relations between the United States’ closest allies in Asia for years.

Seoul will set up a brand new basis that will likely be funded by South Korean firms, fairly than in search of direct funds from the Japanese companies that employed the employees. The South Korean Supreme Court in 2018 ordered the Japanese firms to pay damages to these employees.

The choice drew fast backlash from some plaintiffs and opposition social gathering leaders, underscoring the politically fraught atmosphere surrounding claims stemming from Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and the historic points which might be deeply ingrained within the identities of each international locations.

It displays South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s efforts to enhance his nation’s tattered relationship with Japan in hopes that stronger diplomatic and safety cooperation among the many United States, Japan and South Korea may counter North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and China’s navy buildup.

With Monday’s announcement, South Korea primarily has positioned the ball in Japan’s courtroom. It is unclear how Tokyo plans to reply, however Japanese leaders have reacted positively to current efforts to fix bilateral ties. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on Monday mentioned Japan acknowledges that South Korea’s choice “will help restore a healthy relationship.”

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President Biden additionally welcomed the announcement, saying it marks “a groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies.”

“When fully realized, their steps will help us to uphold and advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo Pacific,” he mentioned in an announcement.

The pressured labor concern has been a contentious one which has plagued relations between the international locations. In 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered two Japanese firms — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel — to compensate South Koreans who had been pressured to work for them throughout World War II, typically in brutal circumstances.

The 2018 rulings led to a diplomatic rift with Japan. The courts additionally ordered the seizure of property held by the Japanese firms in Seoul, which Tokyo referred to as illegal.

In 2019, Japan eliminated South Korea from a “white list” of preferential buying and selling companions and imposed restrictions on exports of key high-tech supplies to South Korea, flaring commerce tensions. The diplomatic spat spilled over into different areas, together with a navy intelligence-sharing settlement.

Japan maintains that the pressured labor concern was settled in 1965, when the 2 international locations restored diplomatic relations by way of a treaty and Japan paid $500 million in grants and loans to South Korea to settle “completely and finally” claims stemming from its occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

The South Korean authorities now plans to hunt donations for its compensation fund from firms that benefited from these grants, reminiscent of steelmaker Posco. By creating this fund, the South Korean authorities is providing a manner for the victims to be compensated whereas releasing up the Japanese firms from making direct funds to the victims.

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South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin mentioned Monday that Seoul is in search of a breakthrough in order that the 2 international locations can deal with geopolitical and strategic challenges within the area. Seoul hopes Japanese firms will voluntarily contribute to the fund for victims, he added, and that Japan will supply a “comprehensive apology.”

“I hope that this is a window of opportunity to forge a new path in history. And I think this is our last chance,” Park mentioned throughout a information convention Monday.

Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries declined to touch upon the announcement.

In response to a query in regards to the lack of Japanese participation within the decision for South Korean victims, Park mentioned: “I think the water cup is more than half full. And I expect that the water cup will be filled more in the future with Japan’s sincere response.”

Resolving the pressured labor concern is a crucial step towards creating momentum to handle different points which have made it troublesome for the 2 international locations to cooperate on safety challenges going through the area, mentioned Yasuyo Sakata, a global relations professor on the Kanda University of International Studies, who makes a speciality of U.S.-South Korea-Japan relations.

“The Yoon government made a difficult decision, but for the future of Japan-Korea bilateral relations, as well as the strategic context we’re in right now, they know we have to cooperate together, and Japan knows that, too,” Sakata mentioned. “Japan needs to show more sincerity, and I think Japan has the power to do so.”

Since Yoon took workplace final May, South Korean and Japanese diplomats have held conferences in an effort to normalize routine conversations and journeys and to hunt a breakthrough.

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When he held the submit of international minister in 2015, Fumio Kishida, now Japan’s prime minister, negotiated a landmark settlement with South Korea to resolve compensation for Korean girls who had been pressured into sexual slavery through the Japanese occupation. With Kishida on the helm, South Koreans considered that Japan can be extra amenable to negotiating a manner out of the present stalemate.

But Kishida continues to face plummeting rankings at residence, which made rapprochement with South Korea an much more troublesome political choice than regular. Yoon, a conservative, has only recently discovered secure footing in his polls, however he faces a National Assembly managed by the primary opposition Democratic Party.

With native elections developing in Japan in April and a legislative election in South Korea in 2024, specialists had referred to as for each leaders to reap the benefits of the window that could be the least politically fraught in each international locations.

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