National / Politics

Lawmakers from Japan and South Korea push for top-down resolution to crumbling bilateral ties

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

About a year after South Korean courts ordered Japanese companies to compensate for the emotional suffering of Korean wartime laborers, lawmakers from both countries Friday agreed on the need to halt the deterioration in ties and called on their leaders to resolve the stalemate at a summit.

One of the possibilities raised was the establishment of a joint fund — an idea previously rejected by the Japanese government.

“The issue could perhaps be resolved with a fund that will be supported voluntarily by Japanese businesses,” veteran Diet member Takeo Kawamura, who leads the Japan-South Korea Parliamentary Union, said at a news conference after the daylong discussion.

“This fund should be future-oriented” and “based on mutual cooperation between the two countries” Kawamura added, saying it could be based on the premise that it represents an investment toward “new technologies.”

On a live TV program the night before, Kawamura said that “any kind of a fund set up based on the premise that the money is compensation would be unacceptable,” as that would breach the very foundation of the 1965 agreement that stipulates all wartime compensation issues were settled “completely and finally.”

However, when news broke Tuesday that the two countries were considering setting up a joint “economic cooperation” fund for the wartime laborers, both sides categorically denied the report and said no such discussions were taking place.

The Friday meeting was attended by more than 110 politicians from Japan and about 40 from South Korea. All belong to bilateral parliamentary unions in their countries.

At the end, the lawmakers adopted a declaration pledging better relations and more efforts to address issues as wide-ranging as hate speech, voting rights for the zainichi Korean residents of Japan, and the promotion of cultural exchanges.

The declaration also vowed to “push for high-level or leadership-level talks as soon as possible.”

Everyone was “in agreement that we want the issue to be resolved from the top down as well,” said Kawamura’s counterpart, Kim Gwang-lim, who was representing the Korean lawmakers.

However, when asked whether any talks were actually scheduled, Kawamura said he is “not aware of any such plans.”

Tensions have been high for a year now, beginning with court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to compensate for the suffering of Korean forced laborers under Japan’s colonial rule. The row escalated when Japan removed South Korea from its “whitelist” of trading partners and imposed stricter trade controls on products including crucial semiconductor materials, leading to South Korea’s decision to scrap an intelligence pact with the United States and Japan.

The overall tone has shifted ever so slightly in the past few weeks, with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon meeting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week. During that meeting, Abe reiterated the government’s standard line but added that the situation “cannot stay this way,” suggesting the urgency with which Tokyo may be viewing the issue.

Lee also claimed that South Korea will continue to uphold both the 1965 Japan-Korea Basic Treaty and the claims settlement agreement, both of which normalized diplomatic relations between the countries after Japan’s surrender in World War II.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5