Working to resolve one of the most thorny bilateral issues in decades, Japanese and South Korean officials are still feeling each other about the latest proposed solution.
Takehiro Funakoshi, director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held talks with South Korean Minister Seo Min-jung on the 16th to discuss the issue of compensation for Korean wartime workers.
However, the two countries have so far received no support for the latest ideas put forward by the South Korean government.
South Korean officials presented proposals for resolving the dispute at a public forum held in Seoul on Jan. 12, Seo said.
It is to set up a foundation to pay wages to Korean workers on behalf of the defendant’s Japanese company. The foundation plans to receive donations from both Korean and Japanese companies.
But when lawyers for the plaintiffs who filed lawsuits seeking damages against the Japanese company and its customers, they were mostly dismissive when they expressed their views on the proposal.
Plaintiffs want the Japanese company to respond in a way that is clearly apologetic, and they want a better picture of where the money is coming from.
In order to appease the South Korean plaintiffs during the meeting on the 16th, it is highly likely that Seo asked for something that showed sincerity, such as an apology or firm financial support from Japanese companies.
A high-ranking official at South Korea’s presidential office said, “Without Japan’s response, we will not be able to win the understanding of the plaintiffs and the South Korean public.”
However, a senior foreign ministry official said it would be difficult for the Japanese government to respond as there was no consensus in South Korea on the proposal.
The Japanese government’s stance was that all reparations claims arising from Japan’s colonial rule were settled under the 1965 bilateral agreement accompanying the normalization of diplomatic relations.
Officials say it is the South Korean government’s responsibility to block a South Korean court’s decision to order compensation by liquidating assets held by the defendant Japanese companies in South Korea.
Defendants Japanese companies Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries said only that the dispute should be resolved by the two governments.
Nippon Steel President Eiji Hashimoto told reporters in late December that the compensation issue was “a government issue, not one that our company is involved in.”
“It’s not good that Japan and South Korea are at odds with each other, but they have to solve the problem,” he said.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries declined to comment on Jan. 16, citing the two countries as still in negotiations.
(This article was written by Kiyohide Inada from Seoul and Anri Takahashi and Satoru Eguchi from Tokyo.)