A South Korean court on Friday ordered the Japanese government to pay damages to a group of former “comfort women” who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II, marking the first such court ruling in South Korea. Japan’s Foreign Ministry immediately lodged a protest over the decision.

The neighbors are also locked in a row stemming from Seoul court rulings that ordered Japanese firms to compensate South Koreans for forced labor during Japanese colonial rule. Ties are expected to remain at a historic low over these issues in 2021, though the incoming Biden administration is likely to increase pressure on the two U.S. allies to make up.

Last month, Japan also urged South Korea to immediately remove its anti-dumping tariff on Japan-made stainless steel after a World Trade Organization panel ruled that extending the protections would be a contravention of WTO rules. Seoul is expected to make a decision on extending the tariffs this month.

South Korean court orders Japan to pay compensation | FRANCE 24 ENGLISH
South Korean court orders Japan to pay compensation | FRANCE 24 ENGLISH

Meanwhile, on the other side of the 38th parallel, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been holding a rare ruling party congress — only the second since the strongman came to power, reports Jesse Johnson, who has had an eye on the drip-drip of information coming out of Pyongyang’s state media.

Kim Jong Un opened the congress last Tuesday with a candid admission that the economic strategy he unveiled at the previous meeting in 2016 had not panned out. On the second day, he vowed to put “state defense capabilities on a much higher level, and put forth goals for realizing it.”

On day three, Kim teased the possibility of improved ties with Seoul and vowed to expand “external relations,” in his first remarks on foreign policy since Biden’s election in November. But come Friday, Kim was back in bad-cop mode, vowing to develop more advanced nuclear arms and lambasting the U.S. as its “biggest enemy,” though he did “not rule out diplomacy.”