National / Politics

South Korea's Moon urges Japan to accept plan for firms from both nations to pay wartime labor plaintiffs

Kyodo

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called on Japan to accept the country’s proposal for solving the issue of compensation to Korean plaintiffs in wartime labor cases through funds from companies of both countries.

It is the first time that the president, who was answering questions from major news agencies in writing, has elaborated on Seoul’s recent proposal over the issue.

Bilateral ties have been strained since South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate groups of Koreans who claimed they were forced to work in Japan during World War II.

Japan has already rejected the proposal, the acceptance of which was presented by South Korea as a condition for agreeing to bilateral talks.

In the written response, Moon called the South Korean proposal a “viable solution” and a “measure that will help foster reconciliation between the stakeholders and move Korea-Japan relations one step forward.”

“Even though Korea and Japan signed treaties … it should be accepted that the victims are still suffering from the pain,” Moon also said. “At the end of the day, our two countries’ wisdom has to be focused on how to actually heal the victims’ pain.”

Japan takes the position that the issue of compensation stemming from its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula was settled by a 1965 accord under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in “economic cooperation.”

Having refused to compensate the plaintiffs who were awarded damages, in line with their government’s stance, the Japanese companies have had some of their assets in South Korea seized through local courts at the request of lawyers for the plaintiffs.

The lawyers are threatening to sell the seized assets if the companies keep refusing to engage in talks, and proceeds from the sales could go toward compensating the plaintiffs.

Regarding the near certainty of no face-to-face talks between Moon and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering in Osaka from Friday, Moon urged Japan to reconsider, saying, “For my part, the door is always open for dialogue.

“Whether we can take advantage of the opportunity presented by the G-20 summit depends on Japan.”

Moon also endorsed Abe’s bid to hold talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un without preconditions, saying Seoul will actively provide support and cooperate in ensuring that the summit takes place.

Even though U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks have stalled for some time, Moon expressed confidence in Kim’s decision to pursue economic development rather than nuclear weapons. “I believe in Chairman Kim’s determination for denuclearization.”

Moon said he believes all the pieces needed to resume the nuclear talks have fallen into place, given that Kim has sent a personal letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, and discussions over the prospect of a third Trump-Kim summit are underway.

The talks remain deadlocked after their summit ended abruptly in late February due to a gap over the scope of Pyongyang’s denuclearization and the amount of sanctions relief from Washington.

The president said it would be possible to say North Korea’s denuclearization has entered an irreversible stage if all of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, the mainstay of the country’s nuclear facilities, are “completely demolished and verified.”

Moon said the United States, for its part, should prepare conditions conducive to North Korea’s denuclearization by taking “reciprocal measures.”

The president said advancing inter-Korea ties is aimed at facilitating North Korea’s denuclearization, and reiterated a willingness to promote economic cooperation with North Korea, including through the reopening of the Kaesong industrial complex on the North’s border with the South.

As for President Xi Jinping’s first visit to North Korea as Chinese leader last week, Moon said he hopes the visit, which came ahead of Xi’s attendance at the two-day G20 gathering from Friday, marked a “turning point” that can help resume dialogues between the two Koreas and between the United States and North Korea.