Japan Should Come Clean About Deal with Korea

      March 16, 2010 13:21

      The Nagoya High Court on March 8 reviewed a compensation suit filed against a Japanese company by a group of Koreans who were forced into labor by the Japanese military during World War II and ruled that although their plight was undeniable, the company was not obliged to compensate them since the 1965 Korea-Japan Normalization Treaty waives all individual claims. Clause 2 of the treaty stipulates that all claims by South Korea have been "completely and conclusively resolved." In return, Japan gave Korea US$800 million in grants and soft loans as compensation for its 1910-45 occupation.

      The Japanese position is that the treaty settles individual claims as well, and Japanese courts have reflected this position. But according to documents submitted as part of a compensation suit filed against a Japanese company by 23 Korean former forced laborers unveiled on Sunday, Tokyo had decided that compensation claims filed by individual Koreans remain valid. There are three documents prepared on April 6, 1965 which were unveiled after a freedom-of-information lawsuit.

      Japan's Foreign Ministry says in the documents that the significance of the second clause in the 1965 treaty is a promise that Korea will not exercise its right to represent its own citizens but does not mean that the individual rights to compensation had been met by the state loans. Despite that, the Japanese government and courts are probably not going to shift their position soon.

      Risking opposition from the U.S. government, the Hatoyama administration recently unveiled a secret pact the two countries signed in 1960 that allows American vessels carrying nuclear weapons into Japanese territory in the event of a military crisis in Northeast Asia. Japan had denied the existence of such a pact for 50 years. Under pressure from the private sector, it in 2008 unveiled only portions of the 1965 treaty, blacking out sensitive areas, and remains opposed to revealing the entire text of the accord.

      In 2005, Korea unveiled most of the documents related to the normalization treaty, amounting to some 35,000 pages. But Japan is apparently opposed to revealing all of its own documents because the information could be used against it when ties are normalized with North Korea. It remains to be seen just how many benefits Japan can win in talks with North Korea by keeping the documents sealed. But over the long run, Tokyo may lose more by souring relations with Seoul as it continues to ignore the suffering endured by the Korean people.

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