Japan Wants Arbitration Panel to Tackle Forced-Labor Dispute

  • By Lee Ha-won

    May 21, 2019 12:02

    Japan on Monday called on Korea to let an arbitration panel resolve a dispute over compensating Koreans who were forced to labor for Japanese companies during World War II.

    The move comes after Korean courts authorized the seizure of the Korean assets of Japanese companies that refused to comply with recent orders to compensate their victims.

    Early this month, the Japanese government sought negotiations with the Korean government over the matter, but none took place as ties between the neighbors chilled to freezing point. The Foreign Ministry here said it will "carefully consider" the latest proposal.

    Tokyo insists that all compensation claims were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations in return for a lump sum payment. But the Supreme Court here ruled last year that treaties between governments cannot override individual rights to claim compensation.

    The arbitration panel would be composed of representatives from Korea, Japan and a third country and requires the consent of both governments. If that fails, Japan could turn to the International Court of Justice, though that also requires Korean approval.

    Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono complained to the Diet on Monday that Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon has commented that "there are limits" to what his government can do about a Supreme Court ruling.

    "We informed Korea of our intention to turn to an arbitration panel, because the comments regretfully came from a high-ranking official, while the Korean side has not respond to our request for negotiations for four months," Kono added.

    Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo talks to reporters at the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on May 13. /Yonhap

    On Monday, Japan's Foreign Ministry summoned Korean Ambassador Nam Gwan-pyo and demanded that the Korean government agree to the arbitration panel. It was Nam's first day in the post after presenting his credentials to Emperor Naruhito.

    Experts here said the prospects for the plan are dim since even an equitable decision would come up against highly ritualized Korean anger at Japan. Prof. Lee Won-deog at Kookmin University said, "It's not easy to put together an arbitration panel, and it will be impossible to convince the public of any decisions it makes. Taking the case to the ICJ could buy the Korean government a few more years and relieve both sides of directly handling the historical issues."

    And former Korean Ambassador to Japan Shin Gak-soo said, "What government could endure the political fallout from failing to convince the arbitration panel? We need to offer our own proposal, such as creating a third-party fund that involves the participation of the Korean government and businesses on both sides."

    But it is becoming clearer that officials on both sides feel that bilateral relations must not be allowed to worsen any further. The U.S. has also been pressuring its two regional allies to settle the dispute and move on.

    Japan's Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya last week said, "We cannot defend the safety of our nation without solidarity between the U.S., Japan and Korea."

    Korea and Japan are seeking a meeting between their foreign ministers on the sidelines of an OECD gathering in Paris on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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