South Korean President Moon Jae In, in his New Year press conference on January 10, made a remark that cannot be shrugged off about wartime Korean workers in Japan. I take this opportunity to rebut his remark.
President Moon said: “Problems that the treaty (the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea) apparently failed to resolve have surfaced gradually. These are not problems that the ROK government has created.”
The remark indicated that President Moon thinks Japan is responsible for resolving the wartime Korean workers problem.
But the agreement accompanying the basic Japan-South Korea treaty specifies bilateral claims as resolved. Considering this specific agreement and the principle that international law overrides domestic law, including judicial rulings, compensation for wartime Korean workers is South Korea’s domestic problem.
During the period of Roh Moo Hyun administration, which Moon Jae In joined as secretary to the then-president, a public-private joint committee concluded that funds for compensation for wartime Korean workers were included in the $300 million USD in grant aid that South Korea received from Japan through the claims agreement. This clarified the South Korean position that South Korean government was responsible for additional compensation for wartime workers mobilized by Japan.
In his New Year remark, President Moon thus reversed the South Korean government's conclusion — one in which he himself was involved 14 years ago.
Unacceptable Blame on Japan
Taking up the principle of separation of powers at the press conference, President Moon also said, “The administration must respect the decision of the judicial branch, and Japan, even if being dissatisfied with the decision, must recognize that the administration has no other choice.”
The remark amounted to anti-Japan blame that cannot be accepted either.
Before the unreasonable rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court, Japan’s Supreme Court had already made a final decision turning down a suit by the same South Korean plaintiffs.
When the Japanese legislative branch ratified the 1965 treaty and claims agreement, it enacted a law nullifying South Koreans’ claims to Japanese citizens (including corporations). Under Japanese legal order, therefore, the South Korean plaintiffs’ current move to seize a Japanese company’s assets amounts to infringement of private property rights, or theft.
The Japanese government abides by Japan’s judicial decisions as a matter of course. If proxies for the South Korean plaintiffs visit Japan, Japanese police under Japanese legal order are responsible for interrogating them as criminals.
The Japanese company in question, if leaving the infringement of its property rights untouched, may be held responsible by its shareholders for the loss.
South Korea Destroyed Bilateral Relations
The South Korean Supreme Court has ruled that, as approval of a Japanese ruling “runs counter to South Korea’s good morals and other public order,” it cannot approve the Japanese ruling or certify its validity in South Korea.
The South Korean court then dismissed the Japanese court ruling as going against South Korean public order and morals. This puts the two countries into an abnormal situation where Japanese legal order is confronting squarely a subsequent South Korean legal order.
Countries conclude treaties to settle past events and avoid such confrontations. Nevertheless, the South Korean judicial branch has deviated from this path and made abnormal rulings running counter to an international treaty. Moreover, President Moon has been defiantly urging Japan to abide by South Korea’s abnormal rulings.
I would like to emphasize that Japan’s public and private sectors should resolutely argue that it is South Korea, not Japan, that has destroyed normal bilateral relations.
Author: Tsutomu Nishioka