Solutions to Japan friction sought at seminar
Hong was speaking Wednesday at the Korea Press Center in Jung District, central Seoul, during a seminar hosted by the Korea Peace Foundation to discuss bilateral issues with scholars and experts from both countries.
In a keynote speech, Hong said he was “deeply sad” the two nations’ relations were in their “worst state” and that the situation was so dangerous that one more added issue of conflict could totally “break” the relationship.
In order to fix this, Hong said the South Korean government should announce it won’t ask for compensation that the Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to pay forced labor victims. Seoul should tell Tokyo that it “won’t necessarily receive” the money if doing so would put Japan in a “difficult” position.
In return, Hong said, the Japanese government should clearly apologize and repent for its illegal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and for forcing Koreans into labor.
“Both governments should send a clear message to South Koreans through some sort of an agreement like the Korea-Japan partnership declaration signed between Kim Dae-jung and Obuchi,” Hong said, referring to a 1998 joint declaration signed by former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
A part of that declaration read that Obuchi “expressed his deep remorse and heartfelt apology” for the “tremendous damage and suffering” to the people of South Korea by its colonial rule.
“The leaders of the two countries should reach a big agreement” amongst themselves, said Hong. “The [South Korean] Supreme Court ruled Japanese companies must compensate [South Korean labor victims], but it goes against the  Korea-Japan treaty, which was a promise made through international law,” said Hong. If the South Korean government generously says it doesn’t need the compensation, then it can no longer be “dragged around” by Japan and solve the dispute “by its own will,” which would lead to a halt of the ongoing “game of chicken.”
The Korea Peace Foundation chairman said if Seoul and Tokyo manage to resolve their spat, Japan could be able to participate in the Korean Peninsula denuclearization peace process, too.
“[Japanese] Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can fulfill his long-cherished wish of establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea and solve the issue of Japanese abductees in the North.”
Park Cheol-hee, a professor at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies, said during the seminar that Seoul must increase communication with Tokyo on various levels to prevent the dispute from worsening.
Park accused Tokyo of “stalemating progress” in bilateral dialogue by outright refusing to abide by the South Korean Supreme Court rulings, even as the South left open the possibility of South Korean companies paying the victims alongside Japanese companies through a special economic fund.
Masao Okonogi, emeritus professor at Keio University and an expert in Korean studies, claimed Japan “would have tried its best to play its part” in the forced labor issue if the South Korean Supreme Court asked the “concerned parties” to resolve the issue on their own from a humanitarian perspective, as Japanese courts previously suggested.
Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Blue House have said on numerous occasions that they must respect the Supreme Court rulings “as a democracy that upholds the separation of powers.”
Tadashi Kimiya, a professor of South Korean politics and diplomacy at the University of Tokyo, urged the South Korean Supreme Court to delay its procedures to liquidate assets of Japanese companies after they refused to abide by its rulings.
Kimiya said the procedures should be postponed until after Seoul and Tokyo devise a “roadmap” to solve the forced labor issue, stressing that if the assets are forcibly liquidated, both nations will likely enter an “economic war.”
Former South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo said the two countries must start discussions on the forced labor issue at least by October, given the expiration date of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia), which falls in late November.
In August, Seoul announced it will not renew the bilateral intelligence-sharing pact, which was first signed in November 2016 and is renewed annually unless one side informs the other 90 days in advance of its plans to end the deal. With that call, the Gsomia is set to expire on Nov. 23 unless Seoul reverses its stance.
BY KIM SANG-JIN, OH WON-SEOK AND LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]