Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that it is willing to work with Japan to find a solution to the issue of compensation for victims of wartime forced labor, after Korean and Japanese lawyers proposed establishing a consultative body to support victims.
“The government is open to discussing various reasonable solutions on the issue of forced labor, while respecting the decision of the judiciary, and considering the rights of victims and the bilateral relationship between South Korea and Japan,” the ministry said.
On Monday, legal professionals and civic groups from Korea and Japan representing the victims proposed the establishment of a joint consultative body to resolve the issue.
In a press conference in Seoul and Tokyo, they suggested the envisioned body include government officials, lawyers, representative of victims, scholars and business officials from the two countries.
“Including the proposal, the government will continue to listen to various opinions from people of all levels of society and closely consult with the Japanese side to find a solution,” the ministry added.
But Japan has strongly opposed the suggestion. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he is “not interested” in the proposal, reiterating Japan’s stance that the forced labor issue has been resolved through the 1965 treaty that normalized relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
“This treaty is a rule that each country, including legislation, administration and judiciary, including the courts, have to abide by,” he said during an appearance on BS Fuji TV on Monday. “I hope (Korea) certainly observes (the treaty).”
Compensation for Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula has been at the center of strained ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
In October 2018, Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Japanese firms should make compensation for its use of Korean workers during World War II, drawing a strong rebuke from Tokyo, which claims related issues were settled under the 1965 agreement.
In apparent retaliation, Tokyo imposed export restrictions on Korea, causing the bilateral relationship to hit a recent rock bottom.
The leaders of the two countries met in December for the first time in 15 months. While Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to maintain dialogue, they failed to make a breakthrough regarding key issues, including the trade row and forced labor.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org