[EDITORIALS]The meaning of ‘compensation’The government’s policy toward Japan and its responsibility for its history is truly confusing. Some observers have pointed out that President Roh Moo-hyun’s remarks on Independence Movement Day contradict the official position that Japan’s past actions should not become the focus of a diplomatic battle. Remarks by other high-ranking officials have either conflicted with Mr. Roh’s remarks or have been vague.
South Korean Foreign Ministry Ban Ki-moon said the president’s remarks on compensation from Japan should be understood in a broad context. Another government official said the word “compensation” carried no legal weight.
But “compensation” is clearly a word that is used in legal affairs. The president used the word, but an official says it has no legal meaning. This is just bewildering. One also must ask whether a government official is free to simply interpret the president’s words as he sees fit.
Mr. Ban’s comment that the president’s words were intended broadly is also vague. Taken together with his statement that renegotiating the Korea-Japan Basic Treaty of 1965 is “not realistic,” it only deepens the confusion. If, in accordance with Mr. Roh’s remarks, we ask Japan for further compensation for Korean victims of its colonial rule, then renegotiating the treaty is unavoidable. If that is not a “realistic” option, doesn’t the foreign minister’s comment suggest that our president made an unrealistic remark? Whether the government will ask for more compensation or expects Japan to make a voluntary show of good faith is also unclear.
Even in individual relationships, one has to be careful with words to avoid getting into trouble. That is even truer when it comes to relationships between nations. If we have something to say to Japan, then we should say it, and we should say it clearly. Vague statements will not be effective. Japan has already responded to the president’s remarks by saying that they seemed to have been made for domestic political reasons.
If there is a need for further compensation from Japan, then the logic for it needs to be explained so that the public can understand it. Only then can the people support or oppose the idea. Japan, too, needs to be prepared for it. Uncertain attitudes only create mistrust, and do not help the relationship between Korea and Japan.