South Korean President Moon Jae-in is not tackling the task of solving a problem with Japan or even complying with a request for holding talks on the matter. The irresponsible attitude of the Korean administration cannot be overlooked. Tokyo must persistently prompt him to resolve the issue.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in a meeting with South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha in Paris, called for Seoul to agree to the establishment of an arbitration committee based on the 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement on the settlement of problems concerning property and claims and on economic cooperation, in regard to South Korean court decisions that ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation for former South Korean wartime requisitioned workers. However, Kang did not give a clear response.
The plaintiffs have filed a request with a South Korean court to issue an order on the selling of assets of Japanese firms that have been seized in South Korea. If actual damage is suffered by Japanese companies, the rupture in Japan-South Korea relations will be decisive.
An early solution is called for, but moves on the South Korean side have been slow.
Immediately before the Kono-Kang meeting, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that it would be no problem if Japanese firms fulfilled the court’s ruling. Seoul’s stance of pressing responsibility on Japan cannot be accepted. Kono had every reason to protest the statement, saying that the South Korean side “does not recognize the seriousness of the situation.”
The 1965 agreement stipulates that problems related to property and claims were “settled completely and finally.” Past South Korean administrations have admitted that the claims of former requisitioned workers were also included in the agreement. Seoul should be responsible for ensuring that Japanese firms do not suffer any disadvantages.
Moon must rectify stance
Citing the separation of powers, the South Korean government has repeatedly expressed its stance that it has no alternative but to respect supreme court decisions. Reneging on a state-to-state promise using domestic judicial decisions as an excuse is not acceptable.
The Moon administration should fully recognize that the rulings impair the legal foundation of Japan-South Korea relations.
Tokyo asked Seoul in January to hold bilateral talks on the wartime labor issue based on the 1965 agreement. Because Seoul did not comply with the request for more than four months, Tokyo shifted to call for resolving the issue at an arbitration committee involving third-party countries. If the Korean side does not comply with this, filing a suit with the International Court of Justice will be the likely outcome.
Moon will attend a summit meeting of the Group of 20 major economies to be held in Osaka in June. Kono has expressed Japan’s position that South Korea needs to compile countermeasures by that time.
Moon must rectify his insincere stance of waiting to see what will happen and display leadership in working toward putting together such measures.
During the meeting with Kang, Kono called for the early lifting of South Korea’s ban on imports of Japanese fishery products. But Kang adopted a cautious stance. The Japanese side needs to convey to the Korean side the safety of Japanese fishery products.
The issue of North Korean nuclear and missile development is deadlocked. It is imperative that pending issues between Tokyo and Seoul do not lead to turmoil in Japan-ROK-U.S. relations.