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Seoul offered compromise, says rep in Tokyo

Sept 05,2019
Seoul extended a proposal to Tokyo last month to settle the two countries’ dispute over wartime forced labor, according to a senior Japanese lawmaker who met Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon on Monday.

Takeo Kawamura, a senior member of the Japan-South Korea Parliamentarians’ Union and a lawmaker from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), elaborated Tuesday on what he claimed was an offer from Korea on Aug. 15 regarding its Supreme Court’s decisions last year ordering two Japanese companies to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during World War II.

Kawamura, a former chief cabinet secretary, spoke to reporters after an LDP meeting shortly after his return from Seoul.

That proposal would have the Japanese companies paying the compensation but later receiving reimbursement from the Korean government and private companies. Such a plan would have nullified any financial burden on the Japanese companies, Kawamura said, while allowing Seoul to save face on the issue by getting the Japanese companies to make a contribution.

The Korean government on Tuesday denied that any proposal of this nature had been made to Japan.

Yet a conciliatory message to Tokyo contained in President Moon Jae-in’s public address on Aug. 15, Korea’s day of liberation from Japanese rule and the reportedly fruitless talks between diplomats ahead of a foreign ministers’ meeting in Beijing on Aug. 21 suggest several different proposals - if not the one alleged by Kawamura on Tuesday - were exchanged between the two sides as their dispute escalated in recent months.

Citing Tokyo officials, Japan’s The Mainichi Shimbun on Wednesday claimed the Japanese government had initially proposed its own plan in which Korea would build a foundation to compensate the forced labor victims to which Japanese companies would voluntarily donate.

In contrast to the alleged Korean proposal, this offer would not be acquiescing to the Korean Supreme Court ruling and would allow the Japanese government to continue its claim that all compensation issues between the two countries were fully resolved in the past.

Seoul, according to the outlet, declined that offer but presented its own proposal ahead of Moon’s attendance of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June. Rejecting this counteroffer, Tokyo imposed a series of restrictions on key industrial materials to Korea in early July, followed shortly after by its removal of Korea from its so-called white list of countries given preferential treatment in exports.

These retaliatory actions from Japan, which cited security issues in Seoul’s trade regime, prompted the Blue House to pull out of a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan last month - a move that escalated the dispute and provoked alarm from both countries’ ally in Washington. On Aug. 25, Seoul staged a two-day military drill on the Dokdo islets, its easternmost territories that Japan also lays claim to.

According to the Mainichi report, the Shinzo Abe administration was stunned by Korea’s staunch responses to its economic measures. Japanese Prime Minister Abe reportedly told figures around him recently that the “issue with Korea will need time,” while a senior government official told the outlet that Tokyo would disregard the diplomatic situation with Seoul until the Moon administration’s term ends.

Citing sources in Tokyo, the Mainichi also claimed that if there is no diplomatic progress on the forced labor issue, the Abe government will not take part in bilateral summits with Korea during the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Chile this November nor the Korea-China-Japan trilateral summit slated for December in Beijing.

Kawamura, a 10-term lower house lawmaker with close personal ties to Abe, raised the issue with Lee during their two-hour meeting over lunch on Tuesday, with the request that Korea reconsider a “solution” for the forced labor ruling, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. The pair also exchanged ideas about a bilateral summit, Kyodo said, but no details were provided.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, KIM SANG-JIN AND SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]