Face up to history
Japan should apologize and compensate for victims
A Supreme Court verdict Thursday ordering a Japanese company to compensate Koreans for forced labor during World War II was certainly designed to heal the wounds of the victims and lay the legal foundation for reparations.
The court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay 100 million won to 150 million won ($89,200-$133,800) each to four women and a victim's family. The Japanese firm was also ordered to pay 80 million won each to six other former forced laborers.
The verdict was the second of its kind after the top court ruled Oct. 30 that another Japanese firm, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., should compensate four Koreans 100 million won each for their forced labor. It also came after the Seoul government announced Nov. 21 that it had decided to disband a Tokyo-funded foundation to help former wartime sex slaves.
The nationalist Japanese government has strongly protested the court's action and the decision over the foundation. As the highest court again ruled in favor of the former forced laborers, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono repeated his firm position that the ruling was "extremely regrettable and absolutely unacceptable."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned that Japan could consider taking "all options," including bringing the case to the International Court of Justice. He called on Seoul to retract the decision immediately. Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba summoned South Korean Ambassador Lee Su-hoon in protest of the ruling.
Japan's protest is based on its claim that victims of forced labor have no right to file a compensation suit under a 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo. The Japanese government has argued the treaty settled all colonial-era compensation claims.
But Korea's Supreme Court is taking a different stance. It says the bilateral accord did not terminate individual rights to reparations for atrocities committed by Imperial Japan. Thus, more Korean victims of forced labor are expected to file compensation suits against Japanese firms.
The problem is that if Tokyo sticks to its firm position against the Seoul court, the two sides cannot find a solution to historical disputes over the 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Such a hard-line stance will only add fuel to anti-Japanese sentiment among Koreans. It also will further deteriorate relations between the two countries.
In this regard, we urge Japan to face up to its shameful history of colonialism and militarism in the early part of the 20th century. The Asian economic power should reflect on its aggression and crimes against humanity during WWII. Then it ought to make a sincere and true apology to Koreans for their pain and suffering caused by its imperialist ambitions.
Without its reflection and apology Japan can never address its historical issues with Korea. Needless to say, the problem of compensation will come naturally only when the former colonial power shows its genuine repentance to those who suffered under the yoke of the brutal Japanese rule.
Most of all, both countries should make all-out efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution so they can leave the bad legacy behind and move toward a future-oriented partnership.
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