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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8  > Japan should repair relations with South Korea based on remorse over its colonial rule
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2018 December 19 - 2019 January 8 TOP3 [POLITICS]

Japan should repair relations with South Korea based on remorse over its colonial rule

January 3, 2019
Akahata editorial

The North-South Korea and U.S.-North Korea summit meetings in 2018 produced a major move toward a peaceful Korean Peninsula. Under this situation, in order to strengthen the current, it is urgently necessary to repair Japan-South Korea relations. The two nations should make efforts to overcome divisions caused from such issues as the wartime Japanese military’s “comfort women” system and the use of Koreans as forced labor during the war. The need is for the Japanese government not to hurl reproaches at its South Korean counterpart, but to face its past history squarely and conduct diplomacy in a cool-headed manner based on international human rights norms.

Acknowledge damage under colonial rule

The South Korean top court ordered Japanese firms to compensate Korean victims of wartime Japan’s use of forced labor. The forced labor issue is a human rights violation deeply linked with Japan’s past war of aggression and colonial rule. As stated in the ILO recommendation that the massive conscription of labor to work for private industries in Japan under deplorable conditions was a violation of the Forced Labor Convention, the victims have the right to obtain redress for damages.

The Prime Minister Abe-led government repeatedly argues that the forced labor issue was settled under the 1965 Japan-South Korea claims agreement. However, as in South Korea, the Japanese top court and government also accepted that the individual right to claim compensation still holds. The two governments must be able to discuss ways to provide relief to the victims. In Japan at a meeting of government-invited experts in April 2015, one member, who seemed to represent the business community, made the following comment.

“When remembering that Japan did bad things during the war, the question always comes to mind: has Japan sincerely looked back its past deed and offered apologies? In Germany, instead of providing state compensation, the government spent a huge amount of money on measures to rectify individual victims’ damage claims. By not acknowledging this point, we are unable to deal with the question, ‘Why has the international community yet to forgive us?’”

Regarding the issue of the wartime Japanese military “comfort women” system, Japan is also under scrutiny by the international society. Even after the Japanese and South Korean governments in December 2015 reached an agreement on the issue, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo denied the heart of the issue by stating that there is no proof to the claim that indicates that comfort women were used as sex slaves. In reaction to the PM’s attitude, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recommended that Japan “ensure that its leaders and public officials desist from making disparaging statements regarding responsibility, which have the effect of retraumatizing victims”. The UN committee also advised Japan to ensure that in the implementation of the bilateral agreement, Japan “takes due account of the views of the victims/survivors and ensures their rights to truth, justice and reparations”. Concerning South Korea’s decision to dissolve the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation which was established based on the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement, the two countries should settle disputes over the matter by engaging in sincere discussions.

The joint general meeting of the Japan-South Korea and South Korea-Japan parliamentarians’ unions in December 2018 confirmed that in order to resolve historical issues, the two unions make concerted efforts to restore the honor and dignity of victims in line with the spirit of reciprocity based on the Japan-Republic of Korea Joint Declaration of 1998. In the declaration, Japan expressed its “deep remorse and heartfelt apology for” Japan’s colonial rule over South Korea for the first time ever in an official document between the two countries. It is necessary to create a government that will uphold this declaration.

Establish government that learns lessons of history

This year marks 100 years since the March 1 Independence Movement in which Koreans stood up against Japan’s annexation/colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Despite the brutal crackdown by Japan’s authorities and military, the protest carried on until the colonial rule ended with Japan’s surrender in 1945. The development of friendly relationships with people on the Korean Peninsula will only be achieved if Japan ends its denial of Japan’s oppression of Koreans and stops justifying its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula. Japan must squarely face the historical record, admit to its past mistakes, and learn lessons from them. In order for the government to change its stance, public movements need to further develop this year to pressure the government to act responsibly.
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