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Abe flatly rejects Korea’s joint fund proposal

June 25,2019
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected the Korean government’s recent proposal to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor through a settlement voluntarily funded by companies from the two countries during a TV interview over the weekend.

Eight months after a landmark Supreme Court ruling on the forced labor issue, the Korean government last Wednesday proposed that Korean and Japanese companies voluntarily contribute to a fund to compensate the victims of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

Abe, speaking on Yomiuri TV on Saturday, said that the Korean government is “going against international promises,” turning down Seoul’s proposal and also rejecting the Korean Supreme Court’s decisions on the forced labor issue.

Tokyo has been vehemently protesting the Korean Supreme Court’s decisions on Oct. 30 on Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Nov. 29 on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which called for the Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II.

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said last week that should Japan accept its offer of a voluntary fund, it will consider settling the dispute diplomatically as stipulated under Article 3, Clause 1, of the 1965 bilateral claims agreement. But Seoul’s proposal was promptly turned down by the Japanese government, who has called for an arbitration panel involving a third-party in accordance with the two countries’ 1965 claims agreement, should the two sides not be able to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Japanese companies have rejected the top Korean court’s decision because Tokyo maintains that the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters. The Korean Supreme Court, however, found that the Japanese government failed to acknowledge the illegality of its colonial rule and that the victims’ rights to individual compensation have not expired.

The Korean government has maintained that it cannot intervene in the decisions of the judicial branch, but also plans to reflect the wishes of the aged victims.

Some forced labor victims and civic groups demanded a sincere apology from the Japanese government as well as recognition of historical facts after Seoul’s announcement last Wednesday. Abe said on Yomiuri TV that the 1965 accord “is an international promise and treaty between Korea and Japan,” adding that “Korea is taking actions that go against international promises.”

He said the Supreme Court ruling on the forced labor issue “is a decision that cannot happen under international law.” Abe continued, “Korea has to act according to international law, and Japan will firmly respond.”

On the future of Korea-Japan relations, Abe said that the “Korean side has to make the correct judgement,” on the forced labor issue and the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery.

President Moon Jae-in will visit Osaka, Japan later this week for the Group of 20 summit, though a bilateral meeting between the Korean and Japanese leaders has yet to be arranged.

The plaintiffs in the meantime are undergoing legal procedures for the seizure of the Japanese companies’ assets in Korea after they refused to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Yomiuri Shimbun reported Saturday that Japan may in turn demand compensation from the Korean government in the case Japanese companies’ assets are liquidated and seized, citing a Japanese Foreign Ministry official.

The Korean government has not specified which companies will contribute to the voluntary joint fund. But the Japanese companies involved in the lawsuits for forcing Koreans into labor, as well as Korean companies who were beneficiaries of the economic cooperation fund from Japan, such as steelmaker Posco, were expected to be contributors.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]