Japan and South Korea try to overcome 80-year compensation problem with trust fund

The issue of “forced Korean workers” during the 1910-1945 period when Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula is known as a sensitive issue among its East Asian neighbors.

While the Seoul administration claims that more than 700 thousand Koreans were forced to work by Japanese companies during the 35-year colonial period, Japan insists that the problem was resolved with the 1965 agreement.

AA correspondent compiled the details of the crisis caused by the wartime workers’ compensations in the relations between the two countries and the new plan announced by the Seoul government for this problem.

During Moon Jae-in’s presidency in South Korea from 2017-2022, some problems, including workers’ compensation, created tensions in relations with Japan.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled against Japanese firms Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Nippon Steel Corp (NSC) to pay compensation to forced laborers.

The Japanese companies’ refusal to pay compensation, pointing to the 1965 agreement insisted by the Tokyo government despite the court decision, stalled the process.

Yoon Suk-yeol, who assumed the presidency of South Korea in May 2022, and his administration recently emphasized “future-oriented neighbor diplomacy” with Japan.

In his most recent statement, Yoon stated that Japan has “transformed from its past militarism to a partner who shares universal values.”

Thus, Yoon achieved a position that set himself apart from other South Korean leaders who argued that Japan’s colonial remorse was insufficient.

A new proposal came from South Korea for the problem of “forced workers” by Japanese firms during the 1910-1945 period when Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula.

The Seoul government announced earlier this week its trust fund plan to pay compensation to some Korean workers forced into labor by Japanese firms during World War II.


“We hope to work with our closest neighbor Japan”

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said on Monday that they planned to pay compensation to some Korean workers who were forced into labor by Japanese firms during the Second World War.

Minister Park said, “As the government, we hope to work with our closest neighbor Japan, which upholds universal values, in the face of the serious environment on the Korean peninsula.” said.

Emphasizing “reconciliation-based relations,” Park said, “This is a new window for opportunities for the future beyond the conflicts between South Korea and Japan.” used the phrases.


new plan

According to the package plan, the compensation of some of the workers who were forced to work during the war will be paid to the Korean complainants through the foundation fund to be established with the support of the Seoul government.

Accordingly, the funds to be transferred from South Korean companies that benefited from the 1965 agreement to the Seoul government-backed foundation will be delivered to Korean victims.

The South Korean Supreme Court decisions announced in 2018 declared that Korean complainants should meet the compensation in question by Japanese companies.

Foreign Minister Park said that in making the decision, the Seoul government took into account the age status of the complainants and the “future-oriented and high level” in bilateral relations.

Expressing that relations should not remain stagnant any longer, Park said, “We hope that Japanese companies will respond positively (to the process) with their voluntary contributions.”

In line with the plan, Seoul will withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) against Japan’s export controls on technological materials.

The Japanese government announced that it continues its regrettable statements about the colonial period and is ready to negotiate to lift export restrictions.


“Future Youth Fund” will also be established

According to the information cited by the international press on the sources of the Seoul government, the “Future Youth Fund” will also be established between the two countries within the scope of the said package plan.

Within the scope of the new fund, South Korean and Japanese companies, which form the business lobbies of the two countries, will be able to offer student scholarships in order to increase mutual higher education opportunities.

The package plan also aims to bring the tradition of mutual visits to each other in their countries once a year to the neighboring leaders, who are known to have not visited each other for the last 12 years.

It is known that the last neighbor leader’s visit took place in Japan in December 2011 between Japanese Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

It is reported that President Yoon is planned to be invited as an observer to the G7 Leaders’ Summit, which will be hosted by Japan in May in Hiroshima.


“Future oriented and brave”

Nakasone Peace Foundation President and Japan’s former Ambassador to Washington, Fujisaki Ichiro, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that he found the METI’s signal that export controls could be negotiated positively.

Stating that he read the move as “Japanese side wants to make the atmosphere as positive as possible”, Fujisaki noted that with the change of government, South Korea’s approach may also change.

Sasakawa Peace Foundation (SPF) International Peace and Security Division Senior Specialist Watanabe Tsuneo also described the Yoon administration’s new move as “future-oriented and bold” towards Tokyo-Seoul multilateral relations.

Watanabe, who argued that the move was the “result of the determined stance” of the Japanese government that the problem was resolved with the 1965 agreement, stated that the Japanese private sector could also be expected to contribute to the process.


Leaders need diplomacy

Kimura Kan from Kobe University argued that since there is neither an international agreement nor an international agreement, the Korean side could easily abandon the plan in question.

Recalling that Lee Jae-myung, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party in South Korea, opposes the plan, Kimura suggested that the plan could be abolished in a possible change of power in the neighboring country.

Evaluating the possibility that the leaders of the two countries could meet at the margin of the G7, Kimura said, “Apparently (planning) Seoul announced and Tokyo praised it. However, if the two leaders speak directly, this becomes an international commitment.” said.

Recalling that the US administration praised him, Kimura described the fate of the planning as “whether Tokyo-Seoul relations will remain stable in the future depends on the Yoon administration”.


Export restrictions should be lifted

Korean studies expert Prof. Kohari Susumu stated that Seoul’s planning has revealed impressions that “the Yoon administration has made concessions” and that Japan has rejected the new compensation and apology statement.

He said the Tokyo government, in turn, should take steps that will lead to public support in his home country, such as lifting restrictions on the export of technology materials implemented since July 2019.


Third party payment

Seoul-based Yonsei Institute expert Bong Young-shik claimed that the Yoon administration, “citing the lack of a solution that satisfies everyone,” has taken a step to ease the disagreements with Japan, which has triple ally status with the United States.

Choi Eun-mi, policy studies expert at the Asan Institute, stated that there was a dispute between Tokyo and Seoul due to the court decision in 2018, adding that compensation to be paid to Korean workers from a third party is the only realistic solution for South Korea.

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