South Korea’s SEOUL (AP) — South Korea took a step towardsnormalising relations with its traditional adversary Japan on Monday, revealing a proposal to recompense Koreans who were subjected to forced labour under Tokyo’s colonial rule that does not require Japanese corporations to contribute to the reparations.
The idea underscores conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol’s effort to repair strained relations with Japan and strengthen security coordination among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington in order to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear threats. President Joseph Biden welcomed it as a “breakthrough new chapter” in collaboration between two of the US’ closest friends. Former forced workers and their sympathisers in South Korea reacted angrily to the South Korean initiative, which is based on funds earned in South Korea. They have requested direct compensation from Japanese corporations as well as a new apology from the Japanese government.
Grievances associated to Japan’s ruthless domination of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, when hundreds of thousands of Koreans were deployed as forced labourers for Japanese corporations or sex slaves at Tokyo’s military-run brothels during World War II, have long hampered ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
Many forced workers have died, and survivors are now in their 90s. Just three of the 15 victims implicated in 2018 South Korean court orders ordering compensation from two Japanese businesses-Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — are still alive, and they are all in their 90s.
At a televised news conference, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said that victims will be reimbursed via a local state-run foundation supported by citizen contributions. He said that South Korea believes that Japanese corporations would also contribute to the foundation on a voluntary basis.
Yoon later described the South Korean decision as “a commitment to advance towards future-oriented Korea-Japan relations.” According to Yoon’s office, he said that both governments must work together to enable bilateral ties enter a new era.
South Korean authorities did not specify which corporations will fund the organisation. Nevertheless, Shim Kyu-sun, chairman of the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan, which would handle the reparations, said in January that the funding would come from South Korean corporations that benefitted from a 1965 treaty that normalised ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
The 1965 agreement was supported by hundreds of millions of dollars in economic help and loans from Tokyo to Seoul, which were employed in development projects carried out by major South Korean corporations such as POSCO, which is today a worldwide steel behemoth. POSCO said on Monday that if a formal request is made, it would consider making a gift to the foundation.
Japan maintains that all wartime compensation concerns were resolved via the 1965 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and has retaliated for South Korean court-ordered payments from Japanese corporations by imposing export curbs on chemicals critical to South Korea’s semiconductor sector in 2019.
South Korea, led by Yoon’s liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in at the time, accused Japan of weaponizing commerce and threatened to cancel a military intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo, a key emblem of their three-way security cooperation with Washington.