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Japan’s political class is still seething over last month’s ruling in Seoul that the government in Tokyo must pay damages to former “comfort women” for their suffering under Japan’s wartime military brothel system. The landmark verdict came despite a 2015 bilateral deal that was meant to put the issue of compensation to rest “finally and irreversibly.”

Japan’s foreign minister called the Jan. 8 ruling “abnormal” and demanded Seoul “correct” matters immediately, but Tokyo remains cautious about the idea of taking its case to the International Court of Justice and reopening old wounds for global scrutiny at The Hague.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul later said the government would consult with the former comfort women “and endeavor to achieve an amicable solution.” The verdict in a second case against Japan involving former comfort women that was due days after the first was inexplicably delayed until next month.

It's complicated! South Korea's white paper fallout | KOREA NOW
It’s complicated! South Korea’s white paper fallout | KOREA NOW

On the other case clouding ties, last month South Korean President Moon Jae-in signaled, for the first time, his opposition to the court-ordered sale of Japanese assets to compensate South Korean wartime laborers. He also said he was “a bit perplexed” over the comfort women ruling, though Japanese politicians said they wanted to see action to back up Moon’s words.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry, though, is playing a different tune: In a white paper published Feb. 2, it dropped its description of Japan as a “partner,” a move interpreted locally as a “downgrade” in ties. And last week, media in Seoul reported on a secret defense plan drawn up by the South Korean military outlining how it would repel an invasion of the disputed Takeshima islands by Japanese forces. And so the bad blood continues …

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