Japan is lukewarm on speaker’s labor solution

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Japan is lukewarm on speaker’s labor solution

Tokyo appeared unreceptive Wednesday to a proposal by a top Korean legislator to compensate victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial period and break the current diplomatic impasse between the two countries.

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang proposed Tuesday that companies from Korea and Japan - as well as the people from the two countries - could make contributions to a fund to compensate the Korean victims of forced labor. He introduced the proposal in a lecture at Waseda University in Tokyo.

A Japanese government official told NHK on Wednesday that Tokyo could not accept the proposal. “Its precondition is that Japanese companies pay money,” he was quoted as saying in the report. “As we have said until now, Japan cannot accept it.”

According to the report, lawmakers from the ruling Japanese Liberal Democratic Party were also pessimistic about Moon’s proposal.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated after the Supreme Court of Korea ruled last year that Japanese companies must pay compensation to individual Korean victims of wartime forced labor. The dispute evolved into a tit-for-tat trade war between Seoul and Tokyo and led to the Moon Jae-in administration’s decision to withdraw from a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

Japan has insisted that the forced labor issue was settled through a 1965 bilateral claims settlement agreement, rejecting any proposal that would require the Japanese government or companies to make payments.

During his lecture on Tuesday, National Assembly Speaker Moon said political leaders of the two countries are responsible for finding a way to restore bilateral relations when governments cannot. “I plan to combine various bills pending at the National Assembly to resolve the issue and offer a single proposal,” he said.

“According to the plan, money donated by companies from both countries will be the financial resource of the fund,” Moon said. “Not only the companies that are responsible [for the forced labor], but also other businesses will be encouraged to voluntarily join the project.”

Moon said the fund will include donations from the publics in Korea and Japan. “The bill should also include a clause that the Korean government can make contributions to the foundation that will operate the fund,” he said.

Moon also proposed that 6 billion won ($5.18 million) left over from a now-dismantled fund to compensate victims of sexual slavery in World War II should be included in the new fund.

Korea and Japan share a bitter history, including Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea. Enslavement of Korean women in wartime brothels and conscription of forced laborers have been particularly thorny issues. A bilateral agreement was signed in 2015 to settle the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, but the Moon administration challenged its legitimacy and dismantled a major part of it, a fund for the victims.

Under the 2015 agreement, the Japanese government contributed 1 billion yen, or 10.6 billion won, to establish the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in 2016. Until its dismantlement this year, about 4 billion won was spent to compensate 35 surviving victims of sexual slavery and 68 relatives of deceased victims.

Of the victims who were alive at the time, 11 refused to accept the agreement.

“I understand that the proposal will be criticized by everyone, because it won’t satisfy expectations of the people of both countries,” Moon said. “But someone still needs to make a proposal and address the issue. This is my responsibility.

“It can be difficult for the governments of the two countries to immediately respond to the proposal,” Moon said in the lecture. “It is a plan that legislatures of the two countries must closely consult and cooperate on. I look forward to the Japanese politicians’ active responses and participation.”

The Blue House distanced itself from Moon’s latest proposal, simply saying that the Korean government has not formulated any new plans since its first offer was turned down. In June, Seoul proposed to Tokyo that Japanese companies that used forced laborers during the colonial period and Korean companies that received financial support from a 1965 settlement fund could voluntarily raise money for the victims. Japan rejected that so-called one-plus-one plan.

“Many different ideas are being discussed to resolve the forced labor issue,” a presidential aide said Wednesday. “Moon’s proposal is one of them, and the Blue House cannot specifically comment on it.”

Despite the NHK report on Tokyo’s icy response, Moon continued to promote his proposal on Wednesday. He said he will try to submit his proposal to the National Assembly after he returns to Korea and pass it by the end of this year.

“There are two important moments. The General Security of Military Information Agreement will formally expire starting Nov. 23,” Moon said. “And at the end of the year, assets of Japanese wartime corporations in Korea, seized earlier based on the Supreme Court rulings, are likely to be liquidated. Unless the bill is passed before this, we will face a dead end.”

Moon also said he had met with over 10 Japanese politicians including Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, during his four-day trip to Tokyo.

BY SER MYO-JA, KIM SANG-JIN [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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