South Korean foundation could pay wartime damages to Japanese companies
Japan and South Korea are discussing a plan for a foundation funded by contributions from Korean companies to pay compensation for war work to plaintiffs on behalf of defendant Japanese companies, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.
The expected compromise agreement follows South Korean court orders for the liquidation of local assets of Japanese companies to pay for damages. Japan maintains that all claims arising from its colonial rule were settled “completely and finally” under a 1965 bilateral agreement.
The countries aim to settle the compensation issue, which has contributed to the deterioration of bilateral relations to the worst level in decades, by the end of this year, the sources said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol plan to meet on the sidelines of international conferences to be held next month, such as a Group of 20 major economies summit in Indonesia, the sources added.
Combined Shoto shows Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (L) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. (Kyodo)
The plan comes as signs of a thaw in ties between the East Asian neighbors have emerged since Yoon took office in May with a pledge to take a forward-looking approach to Japan. . The South Korean president, who replaced the leftist Moon Jae In party, has taken a tough stance on North Korea.
During the period of the Moon administration, South Korean courts ordered the liquidation of local assets seized from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp., which were prosecuted for alleged forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula.
Both companies failed to comply with compensation orders, according to the Japanese government’s response to the question.
The plan was initially discussed by a public-private advisory body set up by the South Korean government. South Korea has explained the plan to Japan on several occasions, the sources said.
Tokyo could agree, according to a Japanese government source.
Seoul offered to have the Japanese companies join the South Korean companies in contributing to the foundation and apologizing to the South Korean plaintiffs, which Tokyo refused, the sources said.
Kishida could face opposition from hawkish members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party who argue that Japan should not make easy compromises with South Korea.
The plaintiffs objected to Yoon’s stance not to ask the Japanese side to pay damages in hopes of avoiding further deterioration in diplomatic relations.
The idea of the South Korean government paying damages to plaintiffs has also been discussed but is unlikely to be adopted, the sources say.
Local media have reported that the liquidation of the Japanese companies’ assets could be finalized as early as August, but the South Korean Supreme Court has yet to make a decision, possibly taking into account the Yoon administration’s policy towards the Japan.
At a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York late last month, Kishida and Yoon reaffirmed that they aim to restore “sound bilateral relations”.
The first in-person talks between the countries’ leaders since December 2019 have been completely closed to the media. The meeting was described by Tokyo and Seoul as “informal”, a sign that bilateral relations remain delicate and will not improve drastically anytime soon.
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