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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 6)

All News 07:08 August 06, 2020

Find compromise
Japan should change stance on compensation issue

The tension between Seoul and Tokyo is escalating with both sides showing no signs of budging an inch from their firm stances regarding South Korea's Supreme Court ruling ordering Japanese companies to compensate surviving victims forced to work for them before and during World War II. A Daegu court sent official notice to Nippon Steel that it will seize the firm's assets to pay the former Korean workers after the Aug. 4 deadline.

The assets are shares of PNR, a joint venture between the firm and the Korean steelmaker POSCO. The company is poised to file an appeal against the ruling. In the same vein, the Japanese government has threatened to take retaliatory measures against Korea.

Nippon Steel has said such compensation claims were completely resolved with the signing of the diplomatic normalization treaty between the two countries in 1965. This echoes the stance of the nationalist Shinzo Abe administration. It is regrettable that the Japanese side is sticking to its position notwithstanding the fact that individual claims for damage inflicted on by Japan during the 1910-45 colonial period cannot be canceled by any treaty between governments.

It is proper for the Japanese government to find a compromise to narrow the gap over the compensation issue through dialogue. But Tokyo has made no efforts toward that end, only taking retaliatory measures against Seoul and Korean companies. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the selling off of any assets will result in serious consequences, vowing to "resolutely deal with the issue, considering all possible options."

Japanese media, largely influenced by the government, cite the possibility of recalling the Japanese ambassador to Korea, toughening visa requirements for Koreans, seizing Korean assets in Japan, and taking financial retaliation. The Abe administration has only been engrossed in turning the rising tension with Korea to its favor for domestic political gain. It has disregarded growing calls to repent its past misdeeds during the colonial rule and heal the wounds of victims.

The Korean government, for its part, has been seeking to find a solution. Last year, Seoul proposed that companies from both countries take part in a compensatory campaign, only to be rebuffed by Tokyo.

Former National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang proposed a plan to invite citizens as well as companies from the two countries to make donations to a compensation fund for the forced labor victims. But the move ended in failure after Japan rejected it. This means the Korean side has been exerting all possible efforts to resolve the issue, despite opposition from the public. In contrast, Japan has yet to make any efforts to address the problem.

Tokyo is still maintaining a series of export restrictions on key materials crucial for Korea's semiconductor and panel industries in apparent retaliation for the compensation ruling. Also, it has pressed Korea to undo the ruling, claiming that Seoul had violated the 1965 treaty.

It is high time for Tokyo and Seoul to explore ways of meeting halfway and settle the protracted dispute between the two based on the principle of mutual respect. That is the only way for them to guarantee bilateral benefits without further harming bilateral relations.

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