The South Korean government is expected to announce the final draft of a compensation plan for victims of forced labor during the Japanese colonial era. Domestic companies will be the first to contribute funds to compensate the victims, and Japanese companies are expected to participate in the future. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel, defendants who have refused compensation, may participate indirectly through the "Future Youth Fund" created by economic organizations in both Korea and Japan. The apology from Japan is expected to be made at the level of upholding the 1998 Korea-Japan Joint Declaration.
The government's new compensation plan, which had faced obstacles, is a step forward in attracting the Japanese government and companies that have refused to take responsibility. However, there are still shortcomings, as the victims have demanded a sincere apology through the participation of the accused companies. Even before the official announcement, the opposition party is criticizing the plan, calling it "humiliation diplomacy." Despite the expected opposition, the government's determination to pass the final bill reflects its commitment to break free from the past and move towards a better future.
Despite nearly a year of discussions and negotiations since Korea established a public-private consultative body in July, Japan has yet to demonstrate a significant shift in its position. Korea reached out to Japan as a cooperative partner. Despite domestic political risks, the Korean government held a summit with Japan for the first time in three years. Korean companies, which are not liable for compensation, are taking the lead in preparing compensation. However, if Japan fails to respond in good faith, the final plan, which has been developed despite significant obstacles, may be overturned, creating a significant burden for both countries.
Both countries are at a critical juncture in their history, where they must improve their relations amidst constantly changing global dynamics and Northeast Asian economic and security landscapes. Challenges such as the North Korean nuclear threat, the U.S.-China conflict over technological dominance, the prolonged Russia-Ukraine war, and the rise of nationalist movements are formidable obstacles that require joint efforts to overcome. While it is essential to learn from the past, dwelling on it indefinitely is not reasonable.
The ball is now passed to Japan, and the Japanese government must take ownership of the proposed solution presented by Korea and respond with the most forward-thinking measures possible. It is essential to sincerely apologize to the victims and increase the scale and scope of Japanese companies' participation in compensation and fundraising. Besides forced labor, many more past and pending issues need to be resolved, such as the Sado Mine, military comfort women, and Dokdo. Neither country can pave the way for a new future for younger generations without seizing this opportunity to make a breakthrough. Hopefully, Japan will respond with an attitude geared towards the next 100 years and come up with a concrete answer.