Japan, South Korea Seek Resolution to Colonial Labor Dispute

Japan, South Korea Seek Resolution to Colonial Labor Dispute
Kim Sung-joo (C front), a victim of forced labor by Japan during its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and relatives of other victims arrive at the Supreme Court in Seoul on Nov. 29, 2018. (Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images)
Aldgra Fredly

The South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers have agreed on the need to resolve the wartime forced labor dispute that has strained bilateral relations between the two nations for decades.

South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin met with his Japanese counterpart, Yoshimasa Hayashi, in Tokyo on July 18 to discuss resolving the feud dating from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

Park told Hayashi that he would make efforts to find “a desirable solution” before a judgment on compensation payments, with both sides agreeing to seek an early resolution of the dispute, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“It is necessary to develop Japan–South Korea relations based on the foundation of friendship and cooperation between Japan and South Korea that has been built since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1965,” Hayashi was quoted as saying by the ministry.

The two countries have long been at odds over restitution for South Koreans forced to work in Japanese firms and military brothels during the colonization, with Japan arguing that the matter was already settled under a 1965 treaty.

South Korea’s Supreme Court is expected to issue a final decision on liquidating the assets of two Japanese firms by August or September 2022, but Japan warned of repercussions if the liquidation is enforced.

Relations With the United States

Park and Hayashi also agreed to strengthen trilateral cooperation with the United States against North Korea’s nuclear threats while maintaining diplomatic dialogue with Pyongyang, the South Korean foreign ministry said.

“[They] shared the view that South Korea and Japan should closely cooperate in various fields for regional and global peace and prosperity in the face of the rapidly changing international situation,” the ministry stated.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said after his inauguration in May 2022 that he intended to improve bilateral relations with Japan amid North Korea’s nuclear threats.

“Given that the rules-based international order is threatened, strategic cooperation between Japan and South Korea, as well as Japan, the United States, and South Korea is needed more than ever,” Yoon said.

Yoon also met with President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid in June and discussed “trilateral cooperation” against North Korea.

South Korea has been pushing for a declaration to end the 1950–1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. But North Korea said that any formal treaty to end the war must first be preceded by an end to U.S. “hostilities” toward Pyongyang.

Reuters contributed to this report.