S. Korea’s president says ready to discuss wartime forced labor at any time with Japan

Lee Ok-sun, a victim of Japan's wartime sexual slavery, speaks of the Constitutional Court's decision on Dec. 27, 2019, to reject a petition by Korean victims of Japan's sexual enslavement during World War II against the government's 2015 deal with Japan on the issue. (Yonhap). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Aug 15, 2020, Yonhap. President Moon Jae-in said Saturday his government is ready to talk with Japan at any time to resolve a longstanding dispute over compensating Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor during World War II, Yonhap News Agency reported.

“The (South Korean) government has consulted with Japan on a smooth resolution, on which victims can agree, and leaves the door of consultations wide open now as well,” he said during his nationally televised Liberation Day speech. “Our government is ready to sit face to face with the Japanese government at any time.”

Tokyo has argued that all reparation-related issues were settled in a 1965 bilateral treaty. In October 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that the individual rights to compensation remain valid despite the state-to-state deal.

Four Koreans launched the legal battle against a Japanese steelmaker in 2005. Lee Chun-sik is the only surviving plaintiff.

Moon recalled Lee’s comments over Japan’s retaliatory export control that South Korea might be “suffering a loss because of me.”

Moon said, “We will confirm the fact that protecting the dignity of an individual will never be a loss to the country.

“At the same time, we will work with Japan to keep democracy based on the separation of the three powers, universal values of mankind and principles of international law,” he added.

The president reaffirmed that his administration respects the judiciary’s decision, addressing the national ceremony held at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule.

“I believe that joint efforts by Japan and South Korea to respect an individual’s human rights will become a bridge of friendship and future cooperation between the two countries,” he said.

In last year’s Liberation Day speech, he presented a vision for South Korea to become an “unshakable, responsible economic powerhouse” that can cooperate with Japan on an “equal” footing. The message came not long after Japan announced measures to curb the exports of some core industrial materials to South Korea.

This year, Moon shifted the focus to dialogue, based on the shared value of human rights, for a resolution to the forced labor issue.

Moon also made peace overtures toward North Korea, saying, “The true liberation is that the dreams and lives of each person are guaranteed in a peaceful and safe, unified Korean Peninsula.”

“Inter-Korean cooperation is the best security policy to avoid reliance on nuclear and military power for both Koreas,” he said.

He stressed the need to protect “life and safety” of all people on the peninsula.

“I hope that (the two Koreas) will cooperate more closely in the new security situation of the COVID-19 era” to realize a community of “peace, economy and life,” he added.

Moon cited a joint study on health care, forest cooperation and agricultural technology, as well as cooperation in the fight against infectious diseases and shared river management.

Recently, both Koreas have suffered huge damage caused by heavy monsoon rains.

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