SEOUL/GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA – An appeals court in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, on Friday upheld a lower court ruling that ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay damages to two South Korean women over wartime forced labor.
The decision against the major manufacturer by the appeals division of the Gwangju District Court was in line with recent decisions in South Korean courts favoring wartime laborers over Japanese companies.
The rulings, including ones by the Supreme Court, determined that the right of victims to seek compensation over forced mobilization, during what it called Japan’s “illegal” colonial rule, was not terminated by an accord attached to the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized ties between the two nations.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation over its 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula was settled under the accord, which addressed the settlement of problems related to property and claims.
The plaintiffs in the latest case, 86-year-old Kim Yong-ok, and a family member of Choi Jong-rye, said Kim and Choi were forced to work at Mitsubishi Heavy factories in places such as Nagoya during World War II.
Choi died after she was crushed under factory rubble, in a major earthquake that hit off the Pacific coast of Japan’s main island of Honshu in 1944.
In August last year, the Gwangju District Court ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to pay a total of 123.20 million won ($109,000) in damages to the plaintiffs.
In Seoul on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Japanese lawmakers that Tokyo should hold bilateral talks aimed at resolving the compensation issue over wartime forced labor, a source with knowledge of the meeting said.
During the meeting with the cross-party lawmakers at the Blue House, Moon was quoted as saying that talks are required because “the right for individuals to seek compensation has not expired.”
Japan has maintained that the issue of compensation has been settled “completely and finally” under the 1965 agreement, calling recent South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation for wartime forced labor as being “in breach of international law.”
Tokyo has been urging Seoul to take steps to “remedy” the claimed violation, and the South Korean government, for its part, has said it will consider how to respond to the legal judgments.
Moon’s remarks on Friday came as a Japanese parliamentary group asked the South Korean government to take action in line with the 1965 accord. Moon told the group that “the legal judgments should be respected under the principle of separation of (legislative, executive and judicial) powers,” according to Fukushiro Nukaga, who leads the Diet group, which is tasked with improving ties with South Korea.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have deteriorated since the South Korean top court ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. in October to compensate four South Koreans for labor they were coerced into carrying out during Japanese colonial rule. The first ruling against Mitsubishi Heavy came the following month. The Diet group, which includes lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also met separately with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, who told them that Seoul is making “utmost efforts” to avoid the further decline of bilateral ties.
Since the rulings were handed down, no summit meetings have been held between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Moon — a sign of the chill in bilateral ties even as the Asian neighbors celebrate the 20th anniversary of a joint declaration designed to develop a forward-looking relationship.
Abe declined to observe the custom of sending a congratulatory message to a joint meeting of the Japanese and South Korean parliamentary groups on Friday in Seoul.