South Korea offers Japan a deal for victims of forced labour
A victims’ foundation will be set up to which South Korean companies that received compensation can make donations. The issue has fuelled political tensions and trade frictions between the two countries in recent years. South Korea’s President Yoon wants to turn the page to boost cooperation with Japan against North Korea’s threats.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – After years of political tensions and trade frictions, South Korea and Japan seem set on making peace, not only with each other, but above all with their shared colonial history.
After months of bilateral talks, the South Korean government this morning made public its proposal on how to resolve the issue of reparations for those South Koreans who were forced to work by Japan’s imperial authorities during World War II.
The perception of Japan in South Korea is still heavily influenced by its colonial rule over the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
What weighs on this perception is the suspicion that successive Japanese governments never truly disowned this period nor repent for the suffering inflicted.
Repeated visits by Japanese ministers and senior officials to the controversial Yasukuni Shinto shrine only enhanced such suspicion, fed by Tokyo’s apparent reluctance to make amends for its colonial crimes and grant justice to its Korean victims.
The Supreme Court of South Korea tried to fill this gap in 2018 with a ruling ordering Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel (two Japanese companies historically involved in the trafficking of Korean workers during the war) to compensate victims who had been employed as forced labourers.
The two companies refused to comply, backed by the Japanese government, which claims that issues related to reparations and Japan’s colonial rule in Korea were settled by the normalisation agreement signed by the two countries in 1965.
South Korean courts seized some of the assets owned by the two companies to pay compensation to the victims. This boiled over in 2019 with tensions between South Korea and Japan reaching a peak with the conflict spilling over into a trade dispute.
To overcome the impasse, which has marred bilateral relations for the past five years, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry this morning announced the creation of a foundation that would compensate the victims whose right to reparations has been recognised by the Supreme Court.
Under the South Korean proposal, Japanese companies will be able to make a voluntary contribution to the foundation. The South Korean government also expect South Korean companies that benefitted from a 1965 bilateral treaty to make donations.
In order to overcome the sad past, “The [South Korean] government hopes to build a future-oriented relationship between Korea and Japan, based on reconciliation and cooperation,” said South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin.
Since conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol was elected last year, South Korea has softened its stance against Japan hoping to boost trade relations and strategic cooperation against North Korea’s threats.