International Research Institute for Controversial Histories
April 5, 2023
During the meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol held on March 16, Prime Minister Kishida welcomed the solution of the issue proposed by the Korean Government that the Korean Supreme Court’s order for the Japanese companies to compensate should be subrogated by a foundation under the control of the South Korean Government. In addition, Prime Minister Kishida told the Korean President that “his government duly follows the historical recognition held by the consecutive Japanese Governments which states that Japan owes Korea apologies.” Some appreciated the efforts made by President Yoon in that he tried to tackle the issue of the mobilized worker. and did not ask Japan for direct responsibility related to the issue. However, the solution this time cannot fundamentally solve the issue and may create a serious problem for Japan in the future. Rather, I must say, it was a diplomatic blunder on the part of Japan. I will explain the reasons for my opinion.
The “solution by subrogation” means that the payment of compensation demanded from the Japanese companies by the South Korean Supreme Court shall be temporarily carried out by a South Korean foundation.
However, trials of “former mobilized workers” of the same nature were held also in Japan and the Japanese Supreme Court finally judged that the defendant companies were not responsible for compensations, dismissing the complaints by the plaintiffs. There is no need at all for the Japanese companies, which essentially are under no obligation to pay compensations, to be subrogated in the payment of compensations by a Korean foundation.
Nevertheless, should the Japanese Government accept the proposed “subrogated payment” by a Korean foundation, it would mean that the Japanese Government admits that the Japanese companies are responsible for the compensations. If so, it would appear that the verdict of the South Korean Supreme Court supersedes the verdict of the Japanese Supreme Court, which is nothing short of “abandonment of sovereignty” on the part of Japan.
Moreover, this “solution by subrogation” is, in itself, extremely unrealistic. However earnestly President Yoon Suk-yeol may say that Korea does not think of demanding compensation from Japan in the future, as long as it is “subrogation,” the claims for compensation will remain valid. And it is extremely important that President Yoon Suk-yeol has not referred to “the abandonment of the claim for compensation” so far.
Five of the fifteen plaintiffs who claim to be former mobilized workers have already stated that they refuse to receive compensation from the foundation and on March 24, a lawsuit was filed, demanding the seizure of the patent right of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and cashing in. However, the South Korean Government has no legal grounds for forcibly preventing the cashing in of the defendant company’s assets based on the court ruling. According to a public opinion poll conducted immediately after the meeting of the Japanese and South Korean leaders, 53% of the Korean people clearly opposed to the solution proposed this time. There is little possibility for the Yoon Suk-yeol Administration to successfully persuade the plaintiffs into following the Government’s policy, against the persistently adverse public opinion.
As with the case of the agreement over the comfort women, South Korea is a non-modern “state governed by emotion,” where public opinion is put before agreement reached by states. It is very likely that “the solution by subrogation measure” itself may be withdrawn because it is difficult to obtain the agreement of the alleged victims and that South Korea will demand apology and compensation from the Japanese companies.
In fact, South Korea’s largest opposition party’s leader Lee Jae-myung announced that in case of the change of administrations, his administration will exercise the compensation right. Under these circumstances I cannot help but wonder how on earth this could be a “solution.”
It is equally wrong that during the top meeting Prime Minister Kishida stated he would follow the historical recognition of the consecutive Cabinets that obliged Japan to apologize to Korea. The issue of the mobilized workers is purely and strictly the South Korean domestic issue and in no way a Japanese Prime Minister should declare that Japan will continue to apologize to South Korea. What’s more, an easy apology may result in the adverse effect of authenticating Korea’s own distorted historical view that “Japan’s governance was an illegal colonial rule”. If this “solution by abrogation” is withdrawn and things get back to the deadlock, it will remain factual that the Japanese Government accepted for the time being the Korean Supreme Court’s decision of “illegal colonial rule.” And the Japanese Government promised to follow the past apologies. This is the defeat on the part of the Japanese diplomacy, isn’t it?
If Japan’s governance had been “illegal colonial rule,” then everything that happened during that period could become the target of lawsuits. Taxes collected by the Office of the Korean Governor General and profits made by Japanese companies would all fall into “illegal exploitation,” and in terms of the judicial logic, they become targets of anti-Japan lawsuits. Moreover, if the Korean court returns a guilty verdict, the consequence of the verdict is to be effective domestically in Japan, and the Koreans will have everything their way, filing one random lawsuit after another.
The Japan-South Korea relationship will be bankrupted, and the two countries will collapse together.
In order to avoid such catastrophe, the Japanese Government should straightforwardly point out the false Korean historical recognition, ascertain their view of history and establish an equal and normal relationship between Japan and South Korea. “Japan’s annexation of Korea” was the lawful unification of Japan and the Empire of Korea duly following international law and absolutely not a colonial rule. As to the issue of the claims between the two countries, it was “completely and finally” resolved by the Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation, concluded by both Governments in 1965. We must appeal to the world to learn these facts and endeavor to have South Korea accept them.
In addition, the South Korean judicial judgments should never be applied in Japan. Therefore, the Japanese Government should make the two points perfectly clear with the Korean side that the Korean Supreme Court’s decision invalidates the international treaty between the two countries and therefore the Japanese Government cannot accept the verdict and that the issue of the mobilized workers should be settled domestically within South Korea, based on the theory of governance, on the responsibility of President Yoon Suk-yeol, who is held ultimately responsible for the state. And above all, we sincerely want Prime Minister Kishida to review the incorrect historical recognition held by the consecutive Cabinets that eternally dooms our future generations to endless apologies, once and for all, and recover the confidence and pride of the Japanese people. This is the exact way to resuscitate Japan and recover from the total defeat.