With regard to the ruling on the reparations for forced labor under Japanese colonial rule, Tokyo asked Seoul to refer the matter to a mediation committee that includes a member from a third country. Since the ruling was rendered from Korean Supreme Court in late October last year, Japan has taken the steps of bilateral consultations and a third-nation mediation committee, complying with the procedures agreed on in 1965 on the dispute settlement of damages claims between Seoul and Tokyo. It appears that Japan is considering filing the issue with the International Court of Justice in the event Korea does not accept the offer. While such a move does not stand without the consent on Korea’s part, it looks like Japan is using it to promote its image as a thoroughly “law-abiding member” of the international community.
The atmosphere in the Japanese government is highly unusual. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and other influential officials have made it clear that retaliations will follow should the assets of Japanese companies be seized. And victims are taking the measure of asset encashment against the Japanese companies ordered by court to provide reparations. Since the court ruling, relations between Korea and Japan have repeated the boredom of this vicious cycle, and no one has provided a clear solution to this predicament.
Good news is that there is a growing number of people in both countries voicing the need to normalize the relations. Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Saturday that he wants to bring Japan’s relationship with Korea back to normal, expressing his willingness to improve the two neighbors’ military cooperation. Behind such comments lies the mindset of some mainstream politicians in Japan that “the cooperation between South Korea, the U.S., and Japan, or that between South Korea and Japan” are vital in East Asia directly facing China’s expansionism. Some are even expecting that there will be a defense-ministerial talks between South Korea and Japan at the Asian Security Council, which will take place in Singapore in early next month. Private exchanges are ever more active in tourism and culture with the sales of K-Pop in Japan reaching 300 billion won last year, an all-time high.
On the Supreme Court’s decision on the Japanese companies, Korea has not engaged in any consultation at government-level, saying the government cannot intervene in judicial disputes between private entities. The Moon Jae-in administration is taking a “two-track” approach to pursue resolving historical issues and making progress in building a future-oriented relationship in tandem, but as a result, little effort has been made except leaving it to worse. It is crucial that the G20 summit in Osaka in late June serve as a chance to normalize the dialogue between the two heads of state. Once the conversation is initiated at a summit level, it will gradually help make progress in devising a solution for both the government and the private sector.