Speaker Moon pushes for bill to resolve Japanese wartime forced labor issue

November 27, 2019

South Korea’s parliamentary speaker is preparing a bill to create a fund to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor with contributions by firms, governments and citizens of both nations, officials said Wednesday.

The bill, pushed by National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang, is to build a 300 billion-won (US$255 million) fund to compensate some 1,500 victims of Japan’s forced labor, a major diplomatic thorn between the two countries.

The move came amid expectations that Seoul and Tokyo will ramp up efforts to resolve the issue after the South decided last week to “conditionally” suspend the termination of its military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan.

Parliamentary officials explained a draft of the bill to several such victims at a meeting designed to collect their opinions Tuesday.

The legislation appears to be a step forward from an earlier proposal by the speaker.

Moon put forward an idea to set up a fund to be participated in by companies and citizens of the two countries during his speech at a university in Tokyo earlier this month.

This photo, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang. (Yonhap)
Yang Geum-deok (2nd from L), a victim of Japan's wartime forced labor, and civil activists hold a press conference in Gwangju, 329 kilometers southwest of Seoul, on Nov. 27, 2019, to demand the Japanese company Mitsubishi compensate them. (Yonhap)

This photo, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang. (Yonhap)

Diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Tokyo have intensified since Japan imposed export curbs against South Korea in July in apparent retaliation for the top South Korean court’s rulings on the wartime forced labor issue.

Tokyo has reacted angrily to the 2018 rulings, which ordered Japanese firms to compensate the Korean victims. It claims all reparation issues related to Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of Korea were settled in a 1965 state-to-state accord on normalizing diplomatic ties.

Under the draft, an existing foundation designed to support forced labor victims will be upgraded to one that comprehensively covers compensation for the wartime laborers and victims of Japan’s wartime sex enslavement.

The fund will be created by voluntary contributions from companies and people of the two countries. It will likely use 6 billion won that was left over from a now-dissolved Japan-funded foundation on Tokyo’s wartime use of sex slavery.

Moon’s idea follows the example of Germany’s compensation for forced labor under the Nazis. The country set up a foundation in 2000 to compensate forced laborers with contributions by the federal government and 6,000 companies.

A group of forced labor victims remains negative toward the proposed legislation, insisting it is tantamount to exempting the Japanese government and companies from the responsibility they should take.

“Providing financial support that does not entail Japan’s apology is not a fundamental solution to the issue,” said a civic group in support of female victims of forced labor.

The group also claimed that the speaker’s proposal could end up as remission for Japan’s past atrocities and demanded a sincere apology from the Japanese government.

“We denounce Moon’s draft for giving remission to the perpetrator who committed human rights abuses,” another advocacy group said in a statement. “We ask the Seoul government to solve the issue in consideration of victims.”

In June, Japan rejected Seoul’s so-called one-plus-one proposal in June that South Korean and Japanese firms jointly create a fund to compensate Korean victims of Tokyo’s wartime forced labor.

But Tokyo has not shown ostensible objections to Moon’s proposal.

Moon plans to meet with lawmakers from rival parties later in the day to discuss the bill.

“Details of the bill could be subject to change as it will take into account various opinions,” an aide to Moon said.