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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

INTERVIEW: Lawyer opposes S. Korea paying for Japan over wartime labor

  • October 30, 2021
  • , Jiji Press , 10:30 a.m.
  • English Press

Seoul, Oct. 30 (Jiji Press)–The South Korean government should not pay by subrogation compensation that Japanese companies were ordered to pay for wartime labor, a lawyer who led the plaintiffs in related suits said in a recent interview with Jiji Press.


Choi Bong-tae, who played a key role in the wartime labor suits as a member of the Korean Bar Association, said that the plan is likely to face strong pushback from citizens.


The comments came after South Korean Ambassador to Japan Kang Chang-il said in a parliamentary session on Oct. 6 that payment by subrogation is being seriously considered by the South Korean government as an option.


Choi noted the expected difficulty of obtaining consent from the plaintiffs to enable the South Korean government to pay on Japan’s behalf. The arrangement “would face public opposition if it is viewed as exonerating Japanese companies from their responsibility,” Choi also said.


Seoul “must definitely exercise its right to reimbursement against the Japanese companies” if it is to pay by subrogation, he said.


Consideration of the plan comes as Saturday marks the third anniversary of the ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court that ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., now Nippon Steel Corp. <5401>, to pay compensation to people requisitioned to work for it during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula through the end of World War II. It was the first in a series of similar decisions handed down by the top court.


Tokyo takes the position that such rulings violate international law as the issue of wartime labor was resolved by the 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement on property and claims.


Officials of the South Korean government and the ruling party have said that payment by subrogation must be agreed to by the plaintiffs and must accompany an apology by the Japanese companies, as demanded by the former workers.


It seems unlikely that the plan will satisfy both the Japanese companies involved and the plaintiffs.


Choi said that the best solution to the wartime labor issue would be for the plaintiffs and Japanese companies to hold discussions to reconcile their differences, irrespective of the Supreme Court rulings.


“The governments of the two countries should promote dialogue between the two sides, and the Japanese government should not get in the way,” the lawyer said.


South Korea’s national assembly is considering a bill to establish a trust fund financed by both countries’ governments and corporations to pay compensation to all wartime laborers, including those not involved in the lawsuits.


Choi, who was involved in the drafting of the bill, said that it is possible for Seoul and local businesses to launch the fund and start aiding former workers without Japan’s initial involvement, since Tokyo is unlikely to back down from its claim that South Korea is violating international law.

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