Speaker works on a bill to repair Japan ties

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Speaker works on a bill to repair Japan ties

National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s aides called a bill to resolve the wartime forced labor compensation issue the most “realistic” solution to Korea’s diplomatic standoff with Japan.

A meeting between President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is being planned for the sidelines of a trilateral summit in China later this month, and putting the bill in motion ahead of those talks could serve as a “catalyst” to mending ties, according to the parliamentary speaker.

Moon’s “one-plus-one” plan calls for the establishment of a foundation with contributions by companies and people of the two nations to compensate the Koreans forced into labor by Japan during World War II. It also may include other variables.

The speaker’s aides held a press briefing at the National Assembly to detail the one-plus-one bill. They described the plan as “the most realistic way to compensate the forced labor victims and resolve the recent strained Korea-Japan relations.”

The legislation is expected to be proposed to the National Assembly next week.

Hahn Choong-hee, special adviser for foreign affairs to the National Assembly speaker, said during the press briefing that a Korea-Japan summit is expected to be held on Dec. 24, and if the legislative procedure begins before then, Moon will be able to bring to the table the plan and “a good atmosphere may be created for discussions.”

Seoul and Tokyo relations went into a deep freeze following Japan’s export restrictions on Korea, widely seen as retaliation for Korean Supreme Court rulings last year ordering compensation to forced labor victims.

Speaker Moon’s bill proposes that the foundation be tentatively named the Remembrance, Reconciliation and Future Foundation.

Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 claims agreement - such as steel giant Posco - and Japanese companies that mobilized forced laborers are expected to voluntarily contribute to the fund, along with ordinary people from both countries.

Korea’s Foreign Ministry initially proposed a fund comprised of voluntary contributions from the two countries’ companies in June, but Tokyo rejected the plan. Moon visited Tokyo at the beginning of November, and the speaker has been floating various versions of the one-plus-one plan and asking for feedback from victims and civic groups.

An idea to incorporate remaining funds from Tokyo from a 2015 “comfort women” deal was scrapped after a backlash from civic groups and victims of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

Moon previously proposed including a Japanese government contribution of 600 million yen ($5.5 million), the amount left over from the 1 billion yen from a bilateral agreement signed in December 2015 to settle the issue of wartime sexual enslavement of girls and young women during Japanese colonial rule.

The Tokyo-funded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation was dissolved by the Moon administration at the beginning of the year.

Civic organizations have also expressed strong concern that Moon’s plan doesn’t include a proper apology from Japan.

Choi Kwang-pil, the speaker’s senior secretary for policy, addressed such concerns in the briefing and said that the bill “is based on the premise of Japan’s remorse and heartfelt apology.”

Choi said that the part dealing with the comfort women fund was removed and “the bill will focus on the forced labor victims.”

In October 1998, Korean President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi held a summit and made a joint declaration in which Obuchi recognized the “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule and expressed his deep remorse and heartfelt apology for this fact.”

Speaker Moon believes that if President Moon and Abe hold a bilateral summit and reconfirm the Kim-Obuchi declaration, this would be a confirmation of Japan’s remorse and apology.

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 had not expired. The Japanese companies refused to comply.

Tokyo maintains that issues related to compensation were settled through a 1965 claims agreement as the two countries normalized bilateral ties.

In July, Tokyo implemented export restrictions to Korea on three industrial materials crucial for the production of semiconductors and displays. The following month, Japan removed Korea from a so-called white list of trusted trading partners.

While not officially acknowledging the forced labor issue as the reason for the trade restrictions, Japan has been stressing that the export measures will not be lifted without a resolution of the forced labor issue. Tokyo has been particularly concerned about the legal procedures to seize the Japanese companies’ assets in Korea.

Speaker Moon was said to have had discussions with party leaders, floor leaders and lawmakers who have passed similar bills in the past.

Moon’s plan is modeled after Germany’s Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, established after a law was passed by the German Parliament in 2000 to provide individual financial compensation to Nazi-era forced laborers. The initiative came from both the German government and industry, and a total of 4.4 billion Euros ($4.88 billion) were made in payments to more than 1.66 million surviving victims of the Nazi regime by 2007.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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