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Seoul may ask Tokyo to discuss the 1965 bilateral treaty

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Jan 15,2019
As Japan is demanding diplomatic consultations over the forced labor issue, Korea may propose discussing all unresolved issues involving the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized bilateral ties, according to a diplomatic source.

Seoul is considering suggesting to Tokyo that the two neighbors “discuss together all issues that were not dealt with during the 1965 treaty,” a diplomatic source familiar with Korea-Japan issues told the JoongAng Ilbo over the phone Sunday.

Japan is objecting to the Korean Supreme Court’s landmark decisions last year calling for Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor from the colonial era.

Tokyo demanded governmental talks last Thursday after the forced labor victims filed for the seizure of some Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal assets in Korea earlier this month because the Japanese steelmaking giant refused to compensate the victims.

“The Korean government is reviewing proposing putting all issues on the table, including the comfort women victims, compensation for Korean victims of the atomic bombing and the Sakhalin Koreans,” the source said.

But the source added “a decision has not been reached yet” on whether Seoul will accept Tokyo’s proposal for diplomatic consultations at this point.

Tokyo maintains that the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

Article III of the 1965 claims agreement stipulates that Seoul and Tokyo will settle any dispute over the interpretation or implementation of the treaty through diplomatic channels. This is the first time there has been such a request for diplomatic consultations by Japan under this clause.

The 1965 bilateral treaty is seen to have failed to address Japan’s liability for several dark chapters of colonial rule, including the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of girls and young women before and during World War II, euphemistically referred to as comfort women, a problem not in the public sphere at the time.

Other issues include Koreans exposed to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and ethnic Koreans forced to work on Sakhalin Island in Russia, a former Japanese territory.

The Korean Supreme Court decisions on Oct. 30 on Nippon Steel and Nov. 29 on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries sided with Korean forced labor victims and found that the individuals’ right to file claims for damages had not expired.

The decisions noted that the 1965 treaty did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.

With the ball in Seoul’s court now, there is a possibility that Korea could propose diplomatic consultations to consider a packages of issues with the 1965 agreement.

However, there is not a high likelihood that Tokyo will agree to this.

Korea and Japan on Dec. 28, 2015, aimed to resolve the wartime sexual slavery issue finally and irreversibly through a deal that included an apology from Tokyo and a 1 billion yen fund for the victims, which amounted to about $8.8 million at the time.

The Moon Jae-in government has called the deal “flawed” and last November said it will scrap a foundation launched in July 2016 to manage the fund from the Japanese government.

“Japan will most likely claim to the international community that Korea infringed upon international law [the 1965 claims agreement] and that it doesn’t respond to diplomatic agreements, and in that case, it is not right to refuse consultations,” a diplomatic source requesting anonymity said. “We should respond with higher-level discussion to supplement the incomplete 1965 treaty and hold governmental consultations.”

Japan has also been revealed to have pressured Korea to respond to its call for diplomatic consultations over the forced labor issue within 30 days after making the request last Thursday, confirmed a Korean Foreign Ministry official Monday.

If Seoul and Tokyo fail to settle the issue through diplomatic methods, Japan is likely to take the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]


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