Sankei Shimbun interviewed Korea University Professor Park Hong-kyu, a member of a public-private consultative body that the South Korean government set up to resolve the wartime forced labor issue. Excerpts of the interview follow:
Sankei: How are discussions at the consultative body going?
Park: Points of discussion have been already sorted out. The consultative body will no longer discuss the ideas of “direct consultations between the defendant firms and the plaintiffs” or seeking a solution through the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With regards to “subrogation compensation,” in which a third party compensates on behalf of the defendants, whether the government will make a payment through taxpayers’ money or set up a fund is under discussion.
At the previous meeting, experts explained that the government can pay compensation only if “all 14 plaintiffs for whom the Supreme Court of Korea finalized the orders [for the Japanese firms to pay damages] give consent.” Winning their consent is probably difficult as the plaintiffs “demand an apology from the companies and the firms must be engaged in paying compensation.”
Sankei: Can you briefly explain about the idea of setting up a fund?
Park: It would be based on the idea proposed by [former] National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang to set up a fund using donations from Japanese and South Korean firms and individuals. Due to the advancing age of the plaintiffs, quite a few of them will accept a cash payment through the fund as they don’t want to see the prolongation of the case. The plaintiffs who adamantly seek compensation don’t have to accept a cash payment.
Sankei: If the plaintiffs reject the fund idea, their lawsuits will continue.
Park: There is no perfect solution that satisfies all parties involved. [What the South Korean side can do] is to show a commitment to resolving the issue by preemptively setting up a fund without seeking return from Japan. If the Japanese government does nothing but to express dissatisfaction, which side will international opinion support? If [the Japanese side] wants a perfect solution, the Japanese firms should voluntarily approach the plaintiffs.
Sankei: Is there any possibility for the defendant firms to take part in the fund?
Park: The South Korean government had called for Japan to “respond” to the idea of setting up a fund, but the Japanese side has shown reluctance to give the South Korea any form of warranty during our foreign minister’s visit to Japan and other occasions. I personally believe that we should move forward the plan to set up a fund, regardless of whether the Japanese defendant firms will voluntarily participate or not.
Sankei: Is it possible to pass a bill concerning the establishment of a fund in the National Assembly, which is now controlled by the opposition “Democratic Party of Korea?”
Park: The Moon Hee-sang proposal was submitted to the National Assembly by members of the Democratic Party of Korea, to begin with. If the incumbent National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, who belongs to the Democratic Party of Korea and once led the Japan-South Korea parliamentarian league, proposes a bill, there will be no reason for the opposition party to reject it. I received direct word from Speaker Kim, who shows a willingness to “propose a bill.” The Moon Hee-sang proposal was scrapped because then-President Moon Jae-in was concerned about opposition from the plaintiffs and did not proactively seek a solution. Now the President and the ruling party are keen to seek a solution, it is possible to pass the bill at the National Assembly.
Sankei: What is the schedule ahead?
Park: The public-private organization is expected to wrap up talks at the next session. Given that diplomatic consultations with Japan failed to produce results, the key player [who will consider a solution] will be the President or an organization under the control of the Prime Minister from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A proposal for a solution is expected to be made around October or by the end of the year at the latest.
Sankei: Is there any request for Japan?
Park: None. It is important for South Korea to show a stance to solve the “requisitioned worker” issue. I want Japan to take a wait-and-see approach for the time being as the current administration is committed to finding a solution. On the other hand, Japan needs to show good faith in handling historical issues other than the requisitioned worker issue, such as compensation involving Class-B and Class-C war criminals.
(Interviewed by Tokiyoshi Tatsuya, a correspondent in the Seoul bureau )