(3rd LD) S. Korea announces donation-based compensation for Japan's forced labor, sparks victims' protests
(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with details)
By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government formally proposed Monday compensating more than a dozen victims of Japan's wartime forced labor through a Seoul-backed public foundation, instead of direct payment from responsible Japanese firms.
The plan announced by Foreign Minister Park Jin is intended to resolve the issue of compensating 15 Koreans who won legal battles against two Japanese firms accused of mobilizing them for hard labor during World War II, when Korea was under Japan's brutal colonization.
Victims and supporting civic groups, however, strongly protested the decision, arguing that it effectively nullifies landmark rulings by South Korea's top court in 2018.
Only three of the 15 plaintiffs remain alive, with the bereaved families of the others legally representing the cases.
The Supreme Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Nippon Steel Corp. to pay them compensation. Refusing to follow the order, they have faced the risk of their assets in South Korea being liquidated.
Under the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's scheme, the Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization, affiliated with the interior ministry, will collect "voluntary" donations from the private sector. It also plans to use the foundation, created in 2014, to compensate other plaintiffs who win pending cases.
The government is expected to seek donations from South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 bilateral treaty, such as steelmaker POSCO, under which Tokyo offered US$300 million in grants to Seoul.
Seoul's foreign minister expressed hope in a statement that the two nations will honor a 1998 joint declaration adopted by then President Kim Dae-jung and then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
In the declaration, the two leaders called for overcoming the past and building new relations, with Obuchi expressing remorse for the "horrendous damage and pain" Japan's colonial rule inflicted on the Korean people.
Regarding criticism that Seoul's plan lacks direct participation by the accused Japanese companies, Park said "the glass is half full" and it could be filled more in accordance with Tokyo's "sincere" response.
He expressed hope that the Japanese government will offer a "comprehensive" apology and the Japanese firms will make voluntary contributions to the foundation.
Legal representatives of victims said in a statement, "(With the latest proposal), the Korean government effectively provides immunity to the accused Japanese firms from legal obligations."
The liberal main opposition Democratic Party also slammed the plan, calling it the "the biggest humiliation and stain in diplomatic history."
In the wake of Seoul's announcement, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he is confident that his government is "in general" adopting former Japanese administrations' perceptions on history, including the 1998 joint declaration issued by then President Kim Dae-jung and then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.
U.S. President Joe Biden also hailed the moves by the key Northeast Asian allies of his nation.
"Today's announcements between the Republic of Korea and Japan mark a groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States' closest allies," he said in a statement, using the official name of South Korea.
Separately, the business communities of the two sides have agreed to create a joint "future youth fund" to sponsor scholarships for students, an informed source said.
Tokyo has maintained that all reparation issues related to the 1910-45 colonization of Korea were settled in the1965 deal to normalize bilateral diplomatic ties.
The neighboring countries held several rounds of official talks on the thorny matter over the past several months in line with the conservative Yoon administration's push for strengthening the trilateral security partnership with the United States and Japan to counter North Korea's military threats.
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