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EDITORIAL | Why Welcome the Misguided South Korea Compensation Plan?

If South Korea continues to distort historical facts, and Japan continues to bow down when falsely accused, an unhealthy relationship may well continue.



South Korea
South Korean newspapers on March 7 feature the government's announcement of a solution to the wartime labor lawsuit issue (© Kyodo)

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has welcomed the "compensation plan" officially announced by the government of South Korea to resolve the issue of wartime labor lawsuits.

But will endorsing a settlement that appears to at least indirectly legitimize South Korea's outrageous behavior really get Japan-South Korea relations on a healthy track? Rather, it should be regarded as a very regrettable development.

South Korea
South Koreans protest war-era work for Japanese companies and demand new reparations.

Plaintiffs Were Already Paid

The compensation plan calls for the establishment of a foundation under the auspices of the South Korean government, which will use donations to pay the compensation ordered by the South Korean Supreme Court in a 2018 ruling. That court order directed Japanese companies to pay alleged South Korean victims of wartime labor. 

In effect, the South Korean plan simply substitutes the parties paying the compensation.

The South Korean government is certainly free to compensate the plaintiffs in the wartime labor cases. But to start with, there should be no demands that Japanese companies pay compensation. Wages were already paid to these plaintiffs under the National Requisition Ordinance of 1939. The law was adopted while Korea was still a Japanese colony. 

Mobilized workers in many countries during World War II were in the same situation as the individuals in the lawsuit. 

South Korea
South Korea’s top court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Co. to pay monetary damages to former South Korean wartime laborers . On October 30, 2018.

Court Decision Contradicts International Treaty

In addition, South Korea was a full party to the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations and Agreement Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation Between Japan and the Republic of Korea. That international agreement specifically states that all claims, including for individual compensation, "is settled completely and finally." 

The Kishida administration needs to do a better job of explaining that Japanese companies are the victims of accusations made by the South Korean judicial system that blatantly ignore historical facts and international law. Moreover, the government needs to make it clear that the expression "third party reimbursement" is misguided. 

Failure to explain the situation adequately, and giving credit to a South Korean foundation for covering the costs of the compensation claims, would spread the mistaken impression that Japan's mobilization of labor was illegal and inhumane.

Repeated Apologies for Every New Seoul Government

Be that as it may, Prime Minister Kishida chose to mention the expression "deep remorse and heartfelt apology." This is the expression used in a 1998 Japan-South Korea joint statement in reference to Imperial Japan's rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Kishida then couched it by saying it provides continuity for the overall stance of successive Cabinets concerning historical awareness. 

Japan's prime minister and foreign minister should not be directly addressing the alleged victims' argument about their wartime labor. This may set a dangerous precedent.  Every time the government in Seoul changes or every time a new bilateral issue arises, Japan's leaders will be forced to repeat apologies that have nothing to do with the historical facts. 


Prime Minister Kishida praised the South Korean government's plan. And he said that he wanted to see bilateral relations develop on a healthy track. 

However, in the future, Prime Minister Kishida should refrain from reading past statements of apology and remorse. If South Korea continues to distort historical facts and issue denunciations, and Japan continues to bow down when falsely accused, the unhealthy relationship between our two countries may well continue. 

Park Jin holds a press conference on the solution for the wartime labor issue on March 6, 2023 in Seoul (© Kyodo)

Contributing to 'Funds' is Not a Solution

Japanese and South Korean business groups together have proposed creation of a joint fund to expand exchanges among young people. They claim the proposal has nothing to do with the wartime labor issue. But we should not take that explanation at face value. Contributing to any fund is not a desirable course of action. 

President Yoon Suk-Yeol's stance on improving Japan-South Korean ties is laudable. But pandering by the Kishida government concerning the wartime labor issue does the opposite of promoting a healthy bilateral relationship.


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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