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Seoul announces plan to compensate victims of wartime Japanese forced labor

SEOUL: South Korea on Monday announced plans to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor, aiming to end a “vicious circle” in relations between Asian powers and strengthen ties to counter the nuclear-armed north.

Japan and the United States immediately welcomed the announcement, but victims have criticized the proposal for falling far short of their call for a full apology from Tokyo and direct compensation from the Japanese companies involved.

Seoul and Tokyo have already stepped up security cooperation in the face of growing threats from Kim Jong Un’s regime, but bilateral ties have long been strained over Tokyo’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.

According to data from Seoul, some 780,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labor during Japan’s 35-year occupation, not counting women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces.

Seoul’s plan is to take money from major South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 reparations deal with Tokyo and use it to compensate victims, Secretary of State Park Jin said.

The hope is that Japan “will respond positively to our important decision today with voluntary contributions from Japanese companies and a full apology,” he added.

“I believe that the vicious circle should be broken at the level of the national interest for the good of the people,” Park added.

Tokyo insists the 1965 treaty – which saw the two countries restore diplomatic ties with a reparations package worth about $800 million in grants and cheap loans – settled all colonial-era claims between the two.

But Tokyo’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi welcomed the new plan, telling reporters it would help restore “healthy” ties after years of tensions.

Japanese media have reported that Yoon may be visiting Tokyo soon, possibly even for a Japan-South Korea baseball game this week.

– “What Japan will do next” –

Washington welcomed what it described as a “groundbreaking new chapter in cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies,” according to a White House statement.

But analysts said the importance of the announcement “will be measured in large part by what Japan does next,” Benjamin A. Engel, a research professor at Seoul National University’s Institute of International Affairs, told AFP.

At least some sort of apology from Tokyo and donations from two Japanese companies held liable by Korea’s Supreme Court would help the South Korean public accept the deal, he said.

“Without these steps from the Japanese side, the Korean government’s announcement will not mean much,” he said.

The move to resolve the forced labor problem follows years of disputes over World War II sex slaves that had strained relations between Japan and South Korea.

Seoul and Tokyo reached an agreement in 2015 that aims to resolve this issue “finally and irrevocably,” with a Japanese apology and the establishment of a 1 billion yen fund for survivors.

But South Korea later backed down from the deal, effectively nullifying it citing the victims’ lack of consent.

The move sparked a bitter diplomatic row that widened, affecting trade and security ties.

– The victims –

Seoul’s Secretary of State Park said the plan has the support of many of the victims’ families, adding that Seoul “will see them individually and consult with them and sincerely seek their understanding.”

But the plan has already drawn fierce protest from victim groups, who won cases on the exact same issue in 2018, when the Seoul Supreme Court ordered some Japanese companies to pay compensation.

“It’s as if the shackles of forced labor victims are being untied by money from South Korean companies,” Lim Jae-sung, lawyer for several victims, said in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“It is a complete victory for Japan, which cannot spare even a yen on the issue of forced labour.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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