The ruling by South Korea’s Supreme Court ordering Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay damages to South Koreans mobilized for wartime labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula threatens to shake the legal foundation of bilateral relations since they were normalized in 1965. In defying a bilateral accord that stipulates the issue of compensation for damage incurred during the colonial era was “completely and finally” resolved with Tokyo providing $500 million in economic aid to Seoul 53 years ago, the court decision contradicts the South Korean government’s official position on the matter and could throw the country’s diplomatic credibility in question. South Korea needs to take steps to prevent the ruling from undermining the basis of our bilateral ties.

In the first ruling that finalizes the judiciary decision on a string of damages suits filed over the wartime forced labor, South Korea’s top court said the right of the plaintiffs to seek damages as individuals has not expired despite the 1965 agreement with Japan, ordering the leading Japanese steel maker to pay a total of 400 million won (some ¥40 million) to the four plaintiffs. It’s now deemed likely that similar rulings will be handed down in nearly a dozen pending suits filed against Japanese firms that used Korean labor mobilized during the war, in which lower courts have awarded the plaintiffs damages.

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