On Wednesday, a South Korean court dismissed a lawsuit filed by comfort women against the Japanese government, contradicting its ruling that it ordered Japanese companies to compensate the victims. Calling for diplomatic solutions to the issue, the recent ruling has brought attention to the steps that will be taken by the South Korean and Japanese governments. Seoul was cautious of providing specific comments, while Tokyo requested more positive approaches from South Korea.
It is worth noting that the South Korean court saw the comfort women issue as something to be addressed not by the court but by the two governments. “The issue of comfort women should be resolved by diplomatic efforts not through litigation,” it said – a decision that was made based on the “state exemption” principal under the customary international law, which says a court of a country cannot judge a case against another country. Although the court has made a complete different ruling on the same issue just within three months, leaving many people confused, it could prompt efforts to revive the dormant diplomatic relations between the two nations.
For recent years, the bilateral relations between South Korea and Japan have been the worst since the normalization. The Moon Jae-in administration practically denied the bilateral agreement reached by his predecessor on the comfort women issue and dissolved the Reconciliation and Healing Fund. It also accepted the Supreme Court ruling that ordered Japanese companies to compensate the victims of forced labor. This led Japan to impose trade restrictions, which was met with South Korea’s threat to terminate the General Security of Military Information Agreement. The two countries communicated with each other intermittently, but diplomatic efforts came to almost a full stop three months ago when the court ruled against the Japanese government.
The South Korean government has emphasized that the agreement on comfort women between the two governments is an “official agreement.” The court also said that the agreement “meets all the diplomatic requirements.” Based on the agreement, Seoul should engage in dialogue with Tokyo through multiple channels while providing remedies for the victims. The Japanese government must also do its part. The conflicts between the two nations are rooted in Japan’s distorted view of history that denies its past wrongdoings. If Japan does not abandon its overbearing attitude, the relations with Korea cannot improve.