Settling the wartime labor disputeNational Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang’s proposed package to solve the conflict over the wartime labor issue with Japan by creating a joint fund from donations from governments, companies and people of the two countries to repair the surviving victims and their families has gained ground.
He plans to motion the bill next week, proposing to elevate the status of the 2014 foundation for wartime labor victims and enhance the fund with the 6 billion won ($5 million) remainder of a now-defunct reconciliatory foundation of Korea and Japan to compensate the so-called comfort women. The design is to pool a maximum 300 billion won to pay 200 million won each to 1,500 survivors. An extra 500 have been counted in to the 990 plaintiffs who had beaten Japanese companies in the Supreme Court or whose cases are pending.
Japanese media reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded positively to the idea. The damages will exempt full accountability on the Japanese companies. The two governments could start negotiations to patch the conflict over rulings on wartime labor that deteriorated bilateral ties to their worst since the normalization of their diplomatic relations in 1965.
The first Supreme Court ruling in October last year triggered export curbs from Tokyo in July and Seoul’s announcement to break the Korea-Japan General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) in August. The traditional tripartite security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo, as well as the Korea-U.S. alliance, was shaken as a result.
Seoul avoided the worst by suspending its withdrawal from Gsomia and its complaints filed at the World Trade Organization at the last minute. Tokyo must respond through reversing its export curbs. The truce, however, cannot last unless the fundamental dispute over wartime labor damages is solved.
But it may not be easy to proceed with speaker Moon’s idea. If plaintiffs maintain that they must be indemnified directly from their past Japanese employers, the plan could flop. Activist groups also oppose the proposal that more or less pardons Japanese entities for their wrongdoings through corporate and civilian charity.
Therefore, their understanding must come first. Moreover, victims could stretch to as many as 200,000. The two governments must address the issue with sincerity and eagerness to find the best possible compromise.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 28, Page 38