Sat, Aug 03, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Rethinking Japan-S Korea dispute

By Wang Ching-ning 王慶寧

The renewed dispute between Tokyo and Seoul has been making headlines since the end of last year, when the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies must compensate four people who worked as forced laborers during the Japanese colonial era.

Many might still remember the 2015 accord between the two nations in which the Japanese government contributed US$8.3 million to fund a foundation to help comfort women and make this wartime issue “finally and irreversibly resolved” (“South Korea, Japan agree ‘comfort women’ accord,” page 1, Dec. 29, 2015).

However, Seoul dissolved the foundation this year, and Japan imposed export controls on South Korea. Many might wonder: What do the South Koreans want?

On July 20, al-Jazeera English’s news program Inside Story aired a story titled “What’s behind renewed tensions between Japan and South Korea?” featuring interviews with Japanese, South Koreans and Americans.

One of the South Korean participants said that money is not important and that all Koreans want is a sincere apology and contrition from Japan.

Out of curiosity, I looked up a “List of war apology statements issued by Japan” in Wikipedia. Among the 53 apologies issued by Japan through official statements, speeches and person-to-person talks, 18 directly refer to South Korea (four to China and two to the US).

Eleven of the 53 were apologies to comfort women. Blanket apologies aside, South Korea is the nation that has received the most apologies from Japan.

Aside from apologies issued by Japanese prime ministers, three of the apologies, surprisingly, were issued by Japanese emperors exclusively to South Korea.

South Korea appears more privileged compared with other nations that were invaded or occupied by Japan during World War II.

In the “controversy” section of the Wikipedia page, it says that in 2010, one comfort woman from Taiwan and then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) declared that the Japanese government should admit its crimes and apologize to Taiwan.

Apparently, Taiwan has received neither an apology nor compensation from Japan. Taiwanese’s favorable attitude toward Japan compared with South Korea has not been reciprocated by Tokyo politically and diplomatically. Contrary to the assertive attitude of the South Korean government, the Taiwanese government appears too soft, if not too weak.

It is also worth noting that both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China waived their rights to World War II reparations from Japan. While caught in the Chinese Civil War, both sides renounced reparations in hopes of winning diplomatic recognition from Japan. However, Vietnam and Korea — both of which were divided into a communist side and a democratic side — still claimed and received reparations from Japan without political concern like the two Chinas had.

South Korea received reparations from Japan through the Treaty on Basic Relations Between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 1965. In the most recent dispute, Japan has asserted that issues regarding wartime payments were settled in this treaty. However, there were twists after Seoul declassified documents in 2005 relating to the accord.

According to the declassified documents, the Japanese government had proposed compensating individual Korean victims, but the South Korean government rejected it in favor of reparations, totaling US$800 million in grants and soft loans, directly from Japan. Seoul also agreed never to ask for further compensation at both the government and individual level.

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