Japan and South Korea’s History Wars Are About to Get Ugly

04-May-2019 Intellasia | Foreign Policy | 6:00 AM Print This Post

As Seoul targets Japanese businesses, hopes that pragmatism would prevail seem all but erased.

This week, on the eve of Japanese Emperor Akihito’s abdication, South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised the leader for his role in fostering positive ties between Japan and South Korea. The moment was a welcome, and all too rare, moment of positivity in an often tense bilateral relationship. Unfortunately, Moon’s greetingshowever graciousbelie more trouble ahead. In April, for example, municipal authorities in Seoul canceled a permit necessary for the construction of Japan’s new embassy in the capitalapparently because of construction delays on the Japanese side. With the permit canceled, Tokyo has scrapped plans for a new embassy and will continue with a smaller diplomatic footprint in South Korea. Adding to the tensions, later in April the World Trade Organisation upheld South Korea’s ban on imports of Japanese seafood from the Fukushima area, which was instated after the nuclear disaster in 2011. Tokyo reacted with strong disapproval of the ruling and continues to criticise South Korea’s restrictions.

South Koreans participate in a funeral service for Kim Bok-dong, 92, a former so-called comfort woman, in Seoul. (GETTY)

South Koreans participate in a funeral service for Kim Bok-dong, 92, a former so-called comfort woman, in Seoul. (GETTY)

But the recent incidents are just minor irritants in overall poor relations between the governments on both sides over historical and territorial disputes. The most pressing of these is the issue of compensation for wartime labourers during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, with the South Korean Supreme Court ruling last November that the Japanese multinational corporation Mitsubishi Heavy Industriesthe country’s largest defense contractorwas culpable for what it described as forced labour and owed approximately $100,000 each in compensation to five former workers. The ruling, which was upheld from earlier findings from lower South Korean courts, was preceded by a similar verdict in October 2018 that ordered another Japanese companyNippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp.to compensate four former workers.




Category: Korea

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