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The South Korean Supreme Court’s Oct. 30 ruling on a group of South Korean people mobilized to serve as wartime labor for Japanese businesses has been rocking Japan-South Korea relations. Its effect is growing day by day, and the issue could potentially deal a fatal blow to bilateral ties.

Because of the legal logic employed by the court, the ruling has had a huge impact. First, the ruling placed the issue of wartime Korean laborers outside the scope of the 1965 Japan-South Korean agreement on compensation claims dating back to Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. The court took the position that since Japan, through the process of negotiating the agreement, refused to acknowledge the illegality of its colonial rule, the accord does not cover compensation for illegal activities on the part of the Japanese government and businesses that followed the government’s policies. Thus it has been established that compensation for every type of activity during the colonial period that the Supreme Court regards as illegal is outside the purview of the agreement.

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