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Editorial: ROK must quickly present measures to settle issue of wartime workers

  • November 30, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 7:48 p.m.
  • English Press

The unsettling prospect that the legal foundation of the Japan-South Korea relationship is being undermined due to a series of unjust rulings by South Korean courts is progressing in reality. The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In must present measures for a solution as soon as possible.


South Korea’s Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in a lawsuit filed by five former requisitioned workers who were mobilized from the Korean Peninsula during wartime. A high court decision that ordered the company to pay about ¥8 million in damages to each plaintiff was finalized.


The top court has also upheld a lower court decision in a similar damages lawsuit filed by other plaintiffs, including South Korean women mobilized to a wartime munitions factory in Nagoya as members of the female volunteer corps.


These rulings followed the South Korean top court decision in late October that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay compensation money. It is inevitable that similar rulings will continue. There is a possibility that new lawsuits will be filed.


Adverse effects on corporate activities of Japanese firms that are ordered to pay compensation — including the possible seizure in South Korea of their property — are a concern.


In its series of decisions, the South Korean Supreme Court upheld the plaintiffs’ right to seek compensation based on a unilateral view that Japan’s colonial rule was illegal.


When relations between Japan and South Korea were normalized in 1965, the two countries concluded the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation, in which the issue of claims was confirmed to have been “settled completely and finally.” Therefore, the South Korean rulings obviously run counter to the bilateral agreement. Moreover, past South Korean administrations have acknowledged that the issue of requisitioned workers was subject to the agreement.


Don’t repeat mistake


It cannot be overlooked that the South Korean government has been slow in taking responsive action despite Japan-South Korea relations having worsened over court battles on the issue of requisitioned workers. Seoul has been studying how to deal with the situation, with the initiative taken by Prime Minister Lee Nak Yeon. But it has yet to put forth concrete steps, limiting its action to hearing opinions from experts.


It is hard to understand that Moon has kept silence on the court rulings. It is imperative for his administration to work toward expanding compensation for former requisitioned workers on its own responsibility and coming up with measures to prevent Japanese firms concerned from receiving disadvantages from the court decisions.


Foreign Minister Taro Kono has called for Seoul to correct, as soon as possible, “the situation of international law being violated” that threatens to overthrow the foundation of the bilateral agreement. Depending on how Seoul responds, Japan will “take resolute actions, including seeking judgments of an international court and taking countermeasures.” Kono had every reason to issue such a warning.


The Japanese government needs to take concerted action in close cooperation with the companies that are defendants in the lawsuits on South Korean former requisitioned workers.


The government has launched a project to compile English-language documents rebutting the South Korean court rulings, to distribute them at international conferences and on other occasions. On the issue of so-called comfort women, the government’s explanations to the international community were delayed, allowing the misunderstanding that they were akin to “sex slaves” to spread even to the United States and European countries. The same mistake should not be repeated.

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