By Minoru Aisaka and Akihiro Nakamura in Seoul
Kang Chang-il (68), leader of the South Korea–Japan Parliamentarians’ Union and a lawmaker of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party, sat down with the Tokyo Shimbun to discuss the bilateral relationship. Known as a Japanophile, he urged the two nations to create a future-oriented bilateral relationship, saying, “If Japan and South Korea cooperate in the fields of COVID-19 countermeasures and the economy, they can become world leaders.” Kang will retire from politics on May 29 when his tenure as parliamentarian expires.
Tokyo Shimbun: Will the ruling party’s landslide victory in the April general election impact South Korea’s Japan policy?
Kang: The Abe administration and some media outlets say the Moon administration is anti-Japan, but that is not true. It earnestly desires to build future-oriented ties with its neighbor, while looking squarely at the past. The South Korean government is being praised for its handling of COVID-19. The world order is being changed by COVID-19, and this is an opportunity for us to join hands and go beyond the emotional bilateral ties of the past.
Tokyo Shimbun: Japan views the court verdicts, which ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers, to be in violation of the 1965 bilateral treaty, which clearly states that claims have been settled.
Kang: South Korea does not deny the treaty. In International law, however, it is commonly understood that a state cannot abrogate the right of individuals to make claims, even if it has concluded a treaty. National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang and others proposed a bill in their search to find a solution that both draws on the views of victims and does not harm the bilateral relationship. Companies and individuals support the victims by voluntarily making contributions. The National Assembly speaker and others seek to resubmit the legislation at the next National Assembly session, although some of the plaintiffs object to it.
Tokyo Shimbun: More and more in Japan say they are “tired of apologizing to South Korea” over the issue of the former comfort women.
Kang: The former comfort women are seeking to restore their own honor through Japan’s apology and reflection on its actions. If Japan doesn’t want to apologize, it can say that it continues to adhere to the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. The statement contains an apology. Continuing to request an apology justifies the victims’ fight. The two national leaders should engage in future-oriented dialogue while accepting past history with tolerance.
Tokyo Shimbun: The South Korea–Japan Parliamentarians’ Union connections are growing thin with the decrease in the number of lawmakers knowledgeable about Japan.
Kang: Former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon knows Japan very well (having been a Tokyo correspondent for Dong-a Ilbo newspaper), but he cannot head the parliamentarians’ union because he is a leading candidate to serve as the next president. I will remain in the union in an emeritus capacity and will continue to offer advice.
Many young South Koreans and Japanese are friends. We must not use politics to aggravate the wounds of history from 110 years ago (Japanese Annexation of Korea). South Korea has advanced economically by learning from Japan and has enjoyed dramatic growth in the IT sector, including semiconductors, since the 1990s. If South Korea and Japan enhance their cooperation, they can become world leaders.