|Foreign Minister Park Jin speaks during a meeting at the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee inside the Assembly building, Seoul, Thursday. Yonhap|
By Jung Min-ho
Foreign Minister Park Jin was lambasted Thursday for the government's soft stance on Japan, which President Yoon Suk-yeol recently described as "a partner" that Korea should join forces with to protect their shared values, despite unresolved past grudges.
At a meeting at the National Assembly Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, Park was criticized especially for the ministry's effort to postpone the Supreme Court's decision on liquidating the assets of Japanese companies here to compensate forced labor victims ― a "red line" Tokyo has warned Seoul will regret crossing.
Three lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) ― Rep. Yun Ho-jung, Rep. Cho Jeong-sik and Rep. Kim Kyung-hyup ― denounced Park for "showing little willingness" to resolve the issue for the victims and for the ministry's "submissive posture" in diplomacy.
The ministry recently issued a statement urging the Supreme Court to consider delaying a verdict on that case, saying it was trying to find diplomatic solutions and that the liquidation of the assets of Japanese companies here may well cause irreversible damage to Korea-Japan relations.
When asked if the ministry was trying to stop the legal process involving the case, Park said it was simply voicing the view that there might be better, more amicable solutions than what will certainly bring a bitter reaction ― and possibly retaliatory measures ― from Japan.
"We have stated our position to Japan … We have made great diplomatic efforts (to resolve the issue)," he said. "We are reviewing all possibilities," Park added.
In 2018, the Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies ― Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal ― to pay compensation to the victims of forced labor during Japan's colonial rule (1910-45). What's currently pending in that court is a decision on whether to seize their assets here to implement the decision, which involves sensitive diplomatic issues and possibly an international treaty violation. Japan says the issue was settled as part of a 1965 agreement, under which it provided Korea with $300 million in grants and $200 million in loans. Yet, many victims dismissed the claim and took their issues to the court individually.
Rep. Yun also raised his voice over Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's decision on Monday to send his offerings to the Yasukuni Shrine, which prompted the ministry to express regret.
The shrine in central Tokyo honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II. Yun and Cho said the ministry has failed to bring about a change of attitude from Japan, saying the minister needs to take a stronger stance.
In a statement sent to the National Assembly before the meeting, the ministry said it was negotiating closely with the Japanese side over many diplomatic matters, including the forced labor case.
Yoon took office in May with a promise to restore Korea's bilateral relations with Japan, which soured considerably during the previous Moon Jae-in administration. In his Liberation Day speech, Monday, Yoon said he will uphold the spirit of the 1998 joint declaration between former President Kim Dae-jung ― a revered figure among liberal voters ― and former Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, to overcome the past and build new relations.