Forced labor plan pushed by Assembly Speaker Moon

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Forced labor plan pushed by Assembly Speaker Moon

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang is pushing for a new proposal which includes raising funds from the Japanese and Korean governments, companies and the public in an attempt to resolve the friction resulting from the wartime forced labor issue between Seoul and Tokyo.

Moon’s proposal, the so-called two-plus-two plan, will raise funds from contributions by the Korean and Japanese governments and companies and the general public to establish a foundation to compensate Korean forced labor victims.

According to a draft of Moon’s bill obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo, a fund of 300 billion won ($255 million) will be raised to compensate up to 1,500 forced labor victims including the plaintiffs from the Korean Supreme Court rulings last year and also individuals who separately apply. This draft is also being circulated amongst the forced labor victims and civic groups for their review.

According to the two-plus-two plan, the Korean government will pay 5 billion won annually for the management of the fund, and the Japanese government will provide 600 million yen ($5.5 million), around 6 billion won. This amount accounts for what is left over from the 1 billion yen Tokyo paid for the so-called comfort women deal reached in 2015.

This is the most detailed plan from Korea on how exactly to raise funds to resolve the forced labor issue thus far. It is an evolution of the one-plus-one plan, initially proposed by the Korean Foreign Ministry in June which called for a fund comprised of voluntary contributions from both Korean and Japanese companies. This plan was immediately rejected by Japan.

Tokyo maintains that issues related to compensation were settled through a 1965 bilateral treaty, a political deal which provided for an economic cooperation fund to Seoul as the two countries normalized bilateral ties.

Korea and Japan signed a bilateral agreement in December 2015 to settle the issue of wartime sexual enslavement of girls and young women during Japanese colonial rule (1910-45) which included an apology from Tokyo and a 1 billion yen fund for the victims. This deal was immediately protested by some victims and civic groups. The Moon Jae-in administration has called the 2015 agreement flawed and ultimately announced last year that the Tokyo-funded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation established for the victims in 2016 would be dismantled though it stopped short of scrapping the deal completely in consideration of bilateral relations.

Until the foundation’s official dismantlement this year, about 4 billion won, or less than half the fund, was spent to compensate 35 surviving victims of sexual slavery and 68 relatives of deceased victims. Moon Hee-sang’s plan expands on the Korean government’s proposal involving voluntary contributions from companies of both countries, which was not expected to have raised adequate funds. Likewise, his plan could enable the Korean and Japanese governments to play the role of guarantor in the management of the foundation to get it started.

Moon’s aide said that the plan is modeled after Germany’s Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future organization established in 2000 to compensate Nazi-era forced laborers comprised of contributions from the German government and companies.

Speaker Moon in the beginning of the month visited Tokyo to meet with Japanese lawmakers and in a lecture at Waseda University proposed that companies from Korea and Japan, as well as the people from the two countries, make contributions to a fund to compensate the Korean forced labor victims.

Takeo Kawamura, a senior member of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union and a lawmaker of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told the JoongAng Ilbo last Friday that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was open to Moon Hee-sang’s proposal. Japan has been pushing for a resolution to the forced labor issue before it lifts any of its export restrictions on Korea.

Kawamura said in the interview that “this is the only method” to resolve the issue and that Abe may consider lifting Japan’s export measures on Korea if Moon’s bill passes the National Assembly next month.

Moon on Tuesday met with some 50 leaders of civic groups to explain the proposal and get their feedback. The bill can be voted on in the National Assembly as early as next week.

The Korean Supreme Court made a landmark ruling on Oct. 30, 2018, ordering Nippon Steel to compensate Korean victims of wartime forced labor and made a similar ruling on Nov. 29 against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The top court acknowledged the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule and recognized that the individual’s right to compensation has not expired. The Japanese companies refused to comply, and the victims began the legal process to seize and liquidate the companies’ assets in Korea.

Moon’s proposal is expected to recognize that foundation is compensating the forced labor victims but the funds being paid by the two countries’ companies will be called contributions in a way to appease both victims and Japan. The period to apply for compensation will be limited to 18 months from the enactment of the bill.

However, there are several factors to consider before it heads for parliamentary approval, as the proposal will also require approval from the victims. Likewise, it is unclear how Japan will react to the two-plus-two fund, especially because of the precedent of the dismantlement of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation for the comfort women issue. It is unclear if Japanese companies, namely the ones involved in the lawsuits, will partake in the joint fund. Diplomatic outreach will likely have to take place in order to sound out Japan’s position.

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