A Seoul court has ruled that the Japanese government must pay 100 million won each to 12 Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery during World War ll. This is the first time that a South Korean court acknowledged that the Japanese government has the responsibility to provide reparations to victims of sexual slavery. The Japanese government claimed sovereign immunity, which is a customary international law that states one sovereign state cannot be sued before the courts of another sovereign state, but the Seoul Central District Court said Friday the issue of sexual slaves is a “crime against humanity” that cannot apply sovereign immunity.
There are concerns that the ruling will further aggravate the relations between the two countries, dealing an additional blow to the already soured relations over the South Korean Supreme Court’s ruling that ordered a Japanese company to compensate for the victims of forced labor in October 2018 and Japan’s export restrictions in July 2019. Moreover, the defendant in this suit is the Japanese government, making it more difficult for the plaintiff to actually receive compensation. Japan’s foreign ministry summoned South Korean Ambassador to Japan Nam Gwan-pyo on Friday in protest right after the ruling was announced.
In order to fix the long-standing grudge between the two countries, Japan should first change attitude toward its past wrongdoings and show willingness to resolve them. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is maintaining a strong stance on the problems related to the two countries’ colonial past, including forced labor. It would only be reasonable for the perpetrator to reach out first.
The South Korean government should actively seek solutions, instead of relying on court decisions. The Moon Jae-in administration said a 2015 agreement with japan over comfort women was seriously flawed but has not laid out any concrete measures to solve the problem. South Korea and Japan are located so closely together, which makes cooperation on security and economy inevitable. It is highly likely that U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who pledged to work together with the country’s allies, will put an emphasis on trilateral cooperation with South Korea and Japan in terms of China and North Korea polices. It is time to make efforts to move beyond the past and devote our diplomatic capacity to establishing future-oriented South Korea-Japan relations.