The clock is ticking

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The clock is ticking

After the Supreme Court’s ruling last October ordering the compensation by Japanese companies for Koreans forced to work during World War II, the legal procedure of liquidating the companies’ assets in Korea has begun. Victims of the forced labor — the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — on Wednesday submitted a request to the court demanding the authorities sell the confiscated shares and patent rights. As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take retaliatory actions if the court’s ruling inflicts substantial damage on Japanese companies, it could lead to an international dispute unless a diplomatic breakthrough is sought and found.

Japan mentioned a ban on major export items, hikes in tariffs, a cap on cash remittances and a suspension of visa issuances as retaliatory steps. If Tokyo executes any one of those measures, it will cause serious damage, not to mention a drastic worsening of public sentiment. The Abe cabinet is even threatening to block Korea from joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Cptpp), a free-trade agreement signed among 11 countries in 2018 in Santiago, Chile. Under such volatile circumstances, we can hardly expect a Seoul-Tokyo summit on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka next month.

We wonder what the Moon Jae-in administration has been doing. The government set up a deputy ministerial-level task force to deal with the problem, but to no avail. Experts in Korea-Japan relations say the dispute must be addressed before it’s too late.

The plaintiffs submitted the request for liquidation on the very day the new Reiwa Era began in Japan. Former Emperor Akihito and new Emperor Naruhito sincerely regretted the damages Korean people had to suffer during the colonial days. Yet the victims unnecessarily provoked disappointment from the Japanese people through the liquidation.

A glimmer of hope comes from the victims’ announcement that they are willing to discuss with Japanese companies the compensation issue.

The clock is ticking. If Japan takes retaliatory steps and Korea opts to counterattack, the dispute will spin out of control. Additional lawsuits are being filed by Korean forced workers during the war, as seen in a suit by 54 victims last month for compensation by Mitsubishi Material and Sumitomo Metal. It is the time for the government to find a solution.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 2, Page 30
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