Don’t alienate JapanSouth Korea’s top court upheld lower court rulings and ordered Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate victims or surviving family members for forced and underpaid labor during 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.
The Supreme Court delivered the same verdict in the case against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal a month ago. The ruling is nevertheless another blow to South Korea-Japan ties, which are already at their worst after Seoul unilaterally disbanded a foundation formed as the result of a 2015 inter-government agreement to compensate victims of sexual slavery to soldiers of the Japanese imperial military and end the dispute over the comfort women issue.
Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono called the decision “unacceptable,” saying that it “fundamentally overturned the legal basis for friendly ties between Japan and Korea” as the ruling disregarded the 1965 bilateral treaty. It warned that the Japanese government could seek international arbitration on the dispute.
Sentiment toward Korea has also been souring in Japan. Chichibu of Saitama Prefecture called off an exchange program with the city of Gangneung in Korea that was scheduled to kick off next month.
A decision by the country’s highest court must be respected, but the government should not stay on the sidelines. Seoul merely issued a statement regretting Japan’s “excessive” response.
The government has not been able to come up with adequate measures, although Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon promised a solution after seeking advice from outside experts following last month’s ruling. There are other similar cases pending at the court. If the plaintiffs take action to force payment of additional damages from Japanese companies, the relationship between the two nations will be incurable.
The government must draw up measures to minimize the conflict as soon as possible. It needs Japanese support and capital to solve the North Korean nuclear issue and any future development of the impoverished North. We must not worsen relationship with our neighbor beyond reason.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 30, Page 34