The Japanese companies held liable for damages by a 2018 South Korean court ruling for forcing Koreans to provide labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula will not be asked to reimburse Korean company funds used for such compensation.
President Yoon Suk Yeol and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida both publicly denied speculation that Seoul would go after the Japanese firms to enforce the plan after compensating the Korean victims on its own, largely because Tokyo refuses to recognize the ruling, at a two-day summit that started Thursday in Tokyo.
The meeting took place for the first time in 12 years amid a breakthrough in ties prompted by Yoon’s decision last Monday to have local businesses pay the Korean victims, while waiting for the Japanese firms to pay into a separate joint fund with Korea meant to improve relations. Tokyo worries Seoul could seek reimbursement for the compensation cost.
“The Korean government has no plans to do so. If we do that, everything returns back to where it was,” Yoon told reporters after the summit, referring to the last five years when Seoul-Tokyo ties dipped to a new low as the two traded a tit-for-tat spat over how to apologize to and compensate the Korean victims amid Japan’s refusal to comply with the ruling mandating the compensation.
Kishida said he does not expect Korea to make such a request, without elaborating. The Japanese leader didn’t go further than reaffirming the 1998 Seoul-Tokyo declaration, which discusses Japan’s “genuine reflection on its wartime past and sincere apology for it.”
But aside from compensation, many say the decision alone to uphold the past apology without addressing forced labor in particular could fuel skepticism over whether Japan is serious about rebooting ties by looking back its wrongs during the colonial period.
Meanwhile, Yoon said he had led efforts to recognize both the government’s position and the 2018 ruling, which he said seemed to contradict each other, a rare moment of such open acknowledgement for a Korean leader.
The summit discussed in length bolstering cooperation for common security and economic interests. An unrelenting North Korea and an emboldened China have prompted closer South Korea-Japan ties as Seoul and Tokyo eye a stronger three-way military coalition with the US to contain Pyongyang. Seoul and Tokyo, America’s two biggest Asian allies, are also deeply invested in backing a US-led economic partnership intended to sideline Beijing.