The forced labor plan was vital to good relations with Japan

The forced labor plan was vital to good relations with Japan

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday defended his government’s controversial plan to use local funds to compensate Koreans enslaved by Japanese companies before the end of World War II, saying it was important for Seoul to build future-oriented. relationship with its former colonial authority.

Yoon described the plan during a cabinet meeting as the result of the government’s efforts to “respect the position of the victims as well as find a way compatible with the common interests and future development of both South Korea and Japan.”

The plan aims to resolve a year-long standoff with Japan and strengthen security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s regional influence. But it has faced fierce opposition from victims of forced labour, their supporters and anti-liberal politicians, who have called it a diplomatic capitulation and demanded direct payments and a renewed apology from Japan over the matter.

the plan It was announced on Monday A state-run foundation will pay compensation to a group of victims of forced labor who won a landmark case against their former Japanese employers.

Japan insisted that all reparations issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries after they colonized the Korean Peninsula for 35 years until the end of World War II.

Money to compensate victims of forced labor will likely come from South Korean companies that benefited from the 1965 accord, which included tens of millions of dollars in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul that were used in development projects. Companies including steel giant POSCO, which said it would consider contributing to the fund if requested

While the plan could be a political gamble for Yun at home, experts say he will continue to push for improved relations with Japan as he seeks to strengthen South Korea’s defenses in line with its alliance with the United States to counter North Korea’s growing weapons program. .

Yoon said the deterioration of relations with Japan in recent years was important to South Korea due to grievances linked to Japan’s brutal rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans were gathered as forced laborers or sex slaves for Japanese companies. A military-run brothel in Tokyo during World War II.

“Japan has changed from a military aggressor to a partner that shares with us universal values ​​and cooperates with us on security, economy, science and technology and the global agenda,” Yun said.

“It is clear that future-oriented cooperation between South Korea and Japan will safeguard freedom, peace and prosperity not only for the two countries, but for the entire world.”

Tensions with Japan escalated in 2018 after South Korea’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling and ordered Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to compensate Korean forced laborers.

Japan responded furiously by placing export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019, citing a deterioration in bilateral trust.

South Korea’s previous liberal government accused Japan of arms trade and later threatened to scrap a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo, a key symbol of its three-way security cooperation with Washington. After pressure from the Trump administration, South Korea eventually backed down and kept the deal.

Hours after Seoul unveiled plans to compensate victims of forced labor, the trade ministries of South Korea and Japan simultaneously announced plans for talks to restore their trade ties. South Korea’s trade ministry said it has decided to suspend its dispute proceedings with the World Trade Organization over Japan’s trade sanctions.

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