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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 8)

All News 07:00 January 08, 2019

Turn for worse
: Seoul, Tokyo should end tit-for-tat confrontation

The conflict between Seoul and Tokyo over a radar row has taken a turn for the worse following remarks by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about a move by forced labor victims to take legal action to seize the assets of a Japanese company.

Appearing on NHK's "Sunday Debate" program Sunday, Abe said he deeply regretted that South Korean victims of forced labor were trying to seize a Japanese firm's assets to get compensation for what the company did during the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule.

He ordered related government authorities to review specific measures regarding the issue, saying that Japan would take action in accordance with international law. His move came after the victims filed for an asset seizure against Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp.

The victims' legal step followed a Supreme Court of Korea ruling in October ordering the Japanese steelmaker to pay 100 million won ($89,800) compensation to each victim. The top court also ruled in favor of other forced labor victims who are expected to take similar action against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Abe's expression of regret over the victims' move was not surprising because Tokyo has already threatened to bring the case to the International Court of Justice. His position is that reparation-related issues regarding Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula were settled under the 1965 treaty between Seoul and Tokyo that normalized bilateral ties.

However, the Supreme Court rejected Japan's stance, ruling that the treaty did not terminate the victims' right to compensation. We have already called on Japan to respect the ruling and let its companies offer a sincere apology and compensation for the victims. Regrettably, the Tokyo government continues to refuse to do so.

The latest developments show the two neighbors are poles apart over historical issues related to Japan's brutal colonial rule and atrocities, such as forced labor and the sex slavery of Korean women for Japanese troops during World War II.

Bilateral relations have also been worsened by the Moon Jae-in administration's decision to disband a Tokyo-funded foundation to help wartime sex slavery victims.

The latest radar dispute has added fuel to the fire. It occurred on Dec. 20 when a Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force P-1 patrol plane flew over South Korea destroyer Gwanggaeto the Great that was on a humanitarian mission to rescue a North Korean fishing boat drifting in international waters in the East Sea.

Despite Seoul's denial, the Abe government has kept accusing the Korean warship of aiming fire-control radar at the patrol plane. The situation has deteriorated further since Japan released a video clip that shows only that the Japanese plane was flying too low in a threatening way over the Korean destroyer.

We urge Seoul and Tokyo to end the tit-for-tat confrontation and solve the problem not with emotional reaction but with dialogue. Most of all, the two sides should make the utmost effort to overcome deep distrust and animosity in and against each other and look to a future partnership. Japan should face up to history more squarely.


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