Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

  • HOME
  • Speaking Out
  • 【#560(Special)】S. Korea Should Not Nullify Forerunners’ Efforts to Build Ties with Japan
Tsutomu Nishioka

【#560(Special)】S. Korea Should Not Nullify Forerunners’ Efforts to Build Ties with Japan

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2018.12.06 (Thu)

December 3, 2018

     South Korea’s Supreme Court has given another final ruling that ordered Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay damages to former South Korean workers and members of the so-called Korean Women's Volunteer Labor Corps. I strongly protest the ruling that fundamentally reverses the framework that Japanese and South Korean forerunners devised to normalize bilateral relations. The ruling, as well as a former Supreme Court verdict against another giant Japanese company, is based on the premise that Japan’s rule of the Korean Peninsula before the end of World War II was illegal. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Moon Jae In administration made a contradictory response by refraining from making an assessment on the ruling while criticizing Japanese diplomatic authorities for urging South Korea to abide by international law.
Japan has acted morally
     Japan has persistently argued that its 35-year rule of the Korean Peninsula under the 1910 Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty had been legal in the international law order of that time. Japan retained this legal stance during 14 years of its negotiations with South Korea for the normalization of bilateral relations and in their results – the Basic Japan-South Korea Treaty and the bilateral claims agreement. Considering that the economic development of South Korea as a member of the Western bloc would also serve Japan’s national interests, Japan then decided to provide $300 million in grant aid and $200 million in loans to South Korea under the agreement. The sums compared with $1,800 million in Japan’s foreign exchange reserves at that time.
     Then, South Korea had $130 million in foreign exchange reserves and an annual national budget worth $350 million. South Korea utilized the Japanese funds to achieve rapid economic growth dubbed as “Miracle on the Han River.”
     While retaining the legal stance, Japan has repeatedly made an apology based on its moral stance. When then South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan visited Japan in 1984, then Emperor Showa said, “It is indeed regrettable that there was an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe that it should not be repeated again." Since then, prime ministers and other Japanese officials have repeated apologies. These developments represent forerunners’ efforts to build Japan-South Korea friendship.

Japan is urgently required to develop international public relations regime
     The South Korean Supreme Court ruling based on the argument that Japan’s rule was illegal flatly neglects the Japan-South Korea relations up until today. It is totally unacceptable. Under the bilateral claims agreement, Japan abandoned claims to private properties left in South Korea and compensations for Japanese fishermen who were seized and dead because of South Korea’s unilateral demarcation of the Syngman Rhee Line in the Sea of Japan in 1952. The top South Korean court is revisiting such claims issues and trying to renegotiate the normalization of bilateral relations. The Moon administration should coolly consider whether such attitude would serve South Korea’s national interests.
     What the Japanese government should do now is to protect Japanese companies’ property rights. As claims problems have all been resolved, Tokyo should strongly ask Seoul to prevent Japanese companies’ properties from being infringed on. In the most dangerous development, a suit could be initiated in the United States for seizing U.S.-located properties of Japanese companies ordered by the South Korean Supreme Court to pay damages.
     To prevent any misunderstanding from spreading in the international community, Japan should also communicate to the rest of the world that Japan’s wartime labor mobilization represented legal paid employment instead of any illegal inhumane act. The government should urgently create a Historical Perception Research Foundation to establish international public relations regime.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.