|The Statue of Peace, representing victims of wartime sex slavery by the Japanese Empire, is set up in front of the former site of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, Jan. 8, the day the Seoul Central District Court ordered the Japanese government to compensate 12 surviving South Korean victims by paying 100 million won ($91,000) to each of them. Yonhap|
New envoy to Tokyo says President still determined to meet with Suga for frank discussions
By Jung Da-min
After a Korean local court's recent ruling which ordered the Japanese government to compensate 12 surviving South Korean victims of wartime sex slavery by paying 100 million won ($91,000) to each, concerns have been raised that the ruling has left little room for the governments of the two countries in terms of what they could do to improve the worsening relations.
The conflict between the countries came to a head a few years ago with the South Korean Supreme Court's October 2018 ruling which ordered Japanese companies to compensate surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor, and has been intensified with the Seoul Central District Court's Jan. 8 ruling on compensation for sex slavery victims. Experts say the time has come for the two governments to take their next steps based on the changed situation following the rulings.
Yang Ki-ho, a professor at Sungkonghoe University, said the essential issue of the legal conflicts was whether Japan's sovereign immunity could shield it from lawsuits in South Korea. But the Korean courts said the cases could not be subject to sovereign immunity, as Japan's crimes were against humanity and happened during its illegal occupation of the Korean Peninsula.
"There had been controversies surrounding the court rulings, which held the Japanese firms and the Japanese government responsible, as they were the first such cases. But the October 2018 ruling on the compensation for wartime forced laborers and another in January this year on the compensation for sex slavery victims showed the South Korean judiciary branch's consistent stance on the matter over the past years," Yang said.
"The governments of South Korea and Japan had made much efforts to solve the issue such as providing compensation to victims in monetary terms, and forming the now-disbanded Reconciliation and Healing Foundation to provide compensation to sex slavery victims for example. But such efforts were made before the judiciary branch's conclusion on the matters had been made, and now the two governments face a limit for such past efforts and are urged to come up with new measures."
Yang said as the Korean government has expressed its stance that it respects the judgments of the courts, it is now urged to take its next steps by implementing measures domestically while seeking consensus and support from the Japanese government for such measures.
"For the matter of forced labor, some victims are seeking monetary compensation and the government could find ways to deal with them while cooperating with the Japanese side. For the demands of victims of sex slavery, there are some things the government could do, such as establishing a museum dedicated to activities to promote women's rights and education and exchange programs for future generation of the two countries." Yang said.
"In the meantime, the Japanese government would need to support such activities by the South Korean government and make an official apology again to the surviving victims because an apology by the Japanese government is what the victims have been seeking and is at the center of the matter."
|New Korean Ambassador to Japan Kang Chang-il speaks during an online press conference, Sunday. Yonhap|
New Korean Ambassador to Japan Kang Chang-il said Sunday that President Moon Jae-in wants to have "franks discussions" with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
"When I received a letter of appointment from Cheong Wa Dae last week, President Moon reaffirmed once again his strong determination to improve relations with Japan," Kang said in an online press conference with reporters.
"He encouraged me to do everything possible to normalize bilateral relations and strengthen our system of cooperation. Moon also conveyed his wish to do all he can for the successful hosting of the Tokyo Olympics and to meet with Prime Minister Suga for frank discussions," Kang added.
The new envoy to Japan is expected to depart for his post later this week. He also said that he will meet with people from various sectors including politics, media and business to promote mutual understanding and seek their wisdom for easing bilateral tension.
Another diplomacy expert Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies, said the Korean government is urged to take the next step by clearly announcing its stance on the matter.
"After the court ruling last week, the government said it respects the judiciary branch's decision. But it needs to further clarify its stance whether it would stick to prioritizing the victims' demands or it would change its position to extend an olive branch to Japan," Bong said.
"To take further steps, the government is urged to come up with such a conclusion first. It could keep prioritizing victims' demands despite Japan's criticism that it goes against the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, at the cost of diplomatic or trade conflicts with Japan. Or it could go for another way to offer an olive branch and seek a turnaround in the relations between the countries."