[EDITORIALS]Mr. Roh’s ambiguous demand

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[EDITORIALS]Mr. Roh’s ambiguous demand

In his speech yesterday commemorating the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement, President Roh Moo-hyun proclaimed that Japan must “make apologies and compensation, if necessary.” The president seems to be referring to the fact that Koreans who were forced into hard labor under Japanese rule have not received individual compensation. This issue surfaced in January, when documents related to the 1965 normalization of relations with Japan were made public.
According to the Korea-Japan Basic Treaty signed in 1965, the two countries agreed that compensation for damage done to Koreans under Japanese rule would be included under the category of “claims against Japan.” With the signing of the treaty, according to its language, “problems related to property and other claims of both countries and its people are solved completely and finally.”
Whether or not the Korean government of the time negotiated to our advantage is still a controversial question. The positive interpretation is that the payments made by Japan under the deal provided a springboard for Korea’s economic development, but the negative view is that slipshod negotiating allowed Japan to buy amnesty for “a few pennies.”
Even if there is justification for the demand for compensation alluded to by President Roh, we are of the opinion that we should think carefully about whether to reopen an international dispute that has been brought to a legal conclusion. If the treaty was not forced upon us, then we have to honor it in perpetuity. If our government changes its position because there is now a different adminstration, what will the international community think of us?
It seems that the president is not actually demanding compensation from Japan. He has proclaimed that he will not start a diplomatic controversy over historical matters. He also said, “There is no change in my thoughts.” It is unclear what exactly he wants, because he talks about compensation while saying he won’t create a diplomatic conflict. Because of this, some say that the remark about compensation was meant for domestic ears. Such confusing messages from the president are not beneficial for Korea-Japan relations, or for the domestic situation. Still, his promise to promote compensation for those who were forced into hard labor has been well received by the people. They should indeed be compensated, in whatever form.

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