Civic leaders urge Japan to alter its stance
Three civic organizations - the East Asian Peace Conference, the Korea Dialogue Academy and the Citizen National Conference for Sovereignty - held a press conference in central Seoul to announce their joint statement, which primarily called upon Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to lift his government’s hostile policies towards Korea.
Signed by a total of 105 notable civic figures that included former high-ranking government officials, academics and religious leaders, the statement listed five major points that Tokyo needed to rectify to restore its ties with Korea and advance regional peace.
These included reversing its recent restrictions on the export of key industrial materials to Korea, acknowledging the unsustainability of the 1965 bilateral treaty and revising it, and maintaining its so-called peace constitution.
The other two demands referred to issues surrounding North Korea - that Japan join South Korea in its drive to denuclearize North Korea and turn the region nuclear-free and that it normalize its long-standing irregular relationship with Pyongyang.
The Korean Supreme Court’s ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate Koreans subjected to forced labor in World War II, the statement read, represents the beginning of the end of the era of colonialism. “As an issue of compensation for human rights abuses inflicted under illegal colonial rule, it is unrelated to the  claims settlement agreement, which only politically resolved property and civil procedure related claims,” the statement said.
Former Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo, a notable civic leader and member of the East Asian Conference, stressed both Seoul and Tokyo needed to dial up efforts to promote regional peace in an increasingly confrontational landscape brought upon by a U.S.-China rivalry.
“In the present situation, both the Korean and Japanese governments have only been focused on presenting the issues at stake, without any strategy as to how to restore diplomacy and dialogue,” Lee said. “Korea bears responsibility, but [we] call upon the Japanese government and people, as the larger nation, to realize the magnitude of its responsibility.”
Ham Se-woong, a Catholic priest and icon of Korea’s struggle to gain democracy in past decades, told reporters that their statement represented “an appeal for not only East Asian, but world peace, and a prayer for humanity as a whole.”
Kim Do-hyun, a former vice culture minister, stepped up to rebut recurrent claims by members of the Abe administration that South Korea violated international law with its Supreme Court ruling on forced labor.
“Since the treaty’s ratification to the present, the Japanese government has maintained the position that the disbursements given to Korea were supplied with the purpose of celebrating Korea’s independence and have no legal or logical connection to Japan’s colonial rule over Korea,” Kim said.
“If the Abe government wants to argue the bilateral treaty completely resolved the sex slavery or forced labor issues, it must first acknowledge that its past official positions were wrong.”
BY LEE YU-JUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]