FM nominee says to ‘unwaveringly’ seek gov’t compensation plan for forced labor victims

January 3, 2024

The nominee for foreign minister said he will “unwaveringly” push for the government’s plan to compensate Korean victims of Japan’s forced labor through a foundation funded by South Korean companies, documents submitted to the National Assembly showed Wednesday.

Cho Tae-yul’s nomination as South Korea’s new top diplomat has drawn attention as Cho has been suspected of involvement in a high-profile judicial power abuse scandal centering on former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae.

Cho, the then second vice foreign minister, was accused of having multiple consultations with a senior top court official, also implicated in the scandal, on the appeals trial filed by the victims seeking compensation from Japan for being forced to toil during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in 1910-45.

Cho Tae-yul, the nominee for foreign minister, enters his office on Dec. 21, 2023. (Yonhap)
Cho Tae-yul, the nominee for foreign minister, enters his office on Dec. 21, 2023. (Yonhap)

Yang, who awaits the sentencing set for later this month, stands accused of having used trials as bargaining chips in dealings with the government of President Park Geun-hye to promote his bid to establish a court of appeals.

He is suspected of pressing his subordinates to devise plans to influence politically sensitive trials for Park to curry favor. The forced labor compensation suits were one of them.

“I believe the government should unwaveringly pursue the solution it is pushing for, so that the plaintiffs can receive the compensation and the unpaid interest,” Cho said in the written responses to the parliament ahead of the nomination hearing next week.

Cho said the Yoon Suk Yeol government’s resolution to the forced labor issue is “a reasonable plan” that seeks to “harmonize” the top court’s ruling that ordered Japanese companies to pay the compensation with the 1965 treaty that Japan cites as the ground for the settlement of all issues stemming from the colonial period.

“I will continue efforts to realize the rights of the victims and their bereaved families and ensure a smooth recovery (process) for their suffering,” Cho said.

Cho was never charged by the prosecution.

In March last year, the Yoon government announced the decision to compensate the forced labor victims without asking for contribution from Japanese companies — dubbed the “third-party” reimbursement plan. This led to a dramatic warming of bilateral relations between the two neighbors.

But last month, the top court finalized the two separate rulings in favor of the Korean plaintiffs, upholding the appellate court’s decision that the state-to-state settlement does not invalidate individuals’ rights to claim damages.

Cho also highlighted the importance of advancing relations with China as South Korea’s “close neighbor and key cooperative partner” in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue, as well as its largest trading partner.

“It is important to advance South Korea-China relations, finding harmony in difference while accepting our differences,” he said. “We will be clear in our position on issues related to our national sovereignty, regime and identity and seek active cooperation in issues that require cooperation, such as regional and global tasks.”

Cho added that he will communicate with Beijing on the human rights issues in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang.

On the possibility of South Korea’s own nuclear armament, he reaffirmed the government’s position stressing that U.S. extended deterrence is the “most realistic and desirable solution.”