Time to shape a futureThe Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday ordering a Japanese steel company to pay delayed compensation for the Korean workers it forced to work hard and underpaid labor during the Japanese colonial period has brought comfort to the aged victims. The decision nevertheless can shake the framework of the basic treaty on which the two countries normalized their diplomatic ties in 1965. Despite the strong ramifications and protests from Japanese officials, Seoul further irked Tokyo by notifying it of a plan to disband a foundation Japan set up and committed to donating $9 million to in order to help surviving victims and their families and put an end to the strife over sexual slavery in 2015.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected the Korean Supreme Court ruling, calling it unacceptable in the context of international law. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono lodged a formal complaint about the verdict, saying it fundamentally overturned the legal basis for the diplomatic relationship framework of 1965. Kono asked his Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha to demand proper steps in consideration of the “gravity” of the issue. Kang answered that the government will come up with measures in respect to the judiciary decision.
Japanese media of both right and left criticized Korea for outrightly disrespecting previous diplomatic treaties and agreements. The Asahi Shimbun, which is usually critical of its government’s attitude towards past aggressions, said in an editorial that the case will not only sour bilateral ties, but all the “neighborly” efforts that have been made to date. Given the mighty influence of the president, the judiciary can be easily swayed by public opinion, it claimed. Most media questioned the credibility of the Korean government for placing popular opinion above agreements between states.
The 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Korea and Japan is compromised of four agreements defining bilateral relationship and wartime compensations and had its eyes on the future. But the relationship has not gone forward, mired by different views regarding issues of the past.
The external environment has become murky due to little progress in North Korean denuclearization and the trade war between the U.S. and China. The two governments that share common democratic and free market values must muster wisdom to find a way to compromise and shape a new future.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 1, Page 30