Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. was ordered by a South Korean court to pay compensation for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the peninsula, the latest in a series of incidents that have soured relations between the two countries.
Mitsubishi Heavy was ordered to pay the families of five former Korean workers 80 million won ($72,000) each, Yonhap News reported yesterday, citing the Busan High Court. The plaintiffs had requested 101 million won each, according to a court official, who asked not to be named, citing court policy.
The decision underscores how Japan’s past occupation of neighboring countries taints regional relationships 68 years after the end of World War II. The Seoul High Court earlier this month ordered Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay compensation to four Korean workers over forced labor. South Korean soccer fans last week unfurled a giant banner directed at the Japan team and fans which read, ‘A nation that forgets its history has no future.’
“Relations between Korea and Japan are at their worst since the Abe administration took office, as Japan isn’t showing any room for compromise when it comes down to historical issues with Korea,” Jin Chang Soo, director of Japan studies at the non-profit Sejong Institute, southeast of Seoul, said by phone, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “At times like this, communication between the two nations is vital but there seems to be none at the moment, which increases misunderstanding and distrust.”
Mitsubishi Heavy plans to appeal the ruling, company spokesman Hideo Ikuno said by phone yesterday, without giving details of the case. The decision is “unjust” and “regrettable,” he said. Nippon Steel said on July 11 it plans to appeal the Seoul court’s ruling to pay 100 million won each to four plaintiffs.
All issues related to the claims by Korean wartime laborers have been settled as part of a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between Japan and South Korea, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the time.
The giant banner at Seoul’s Jamsil Olympic stadium was removed at half-time during the East Asian Cup match between South Korea and Japan on July 28. Japan won the game 2-1. Earlier, fans had briefly unrolled a giant portrait of Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean independence activist who assassinated the then Japanese Resident General of Korea Hirobumi Ito in 1909.
The actions of South Korean soccer fans were “regrettable,” Suga told reporters in Tokyo yesterday.
Japanese fans facing the South Korean supporters also briefly waved a Rising Sun flag, Japan’s national flag from 1870 and 1945 and considered a symbol of Japanese imperialism in many Asian countries, including South Korea and China. A modified version of the flag is still used by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
In addition to demanding payments for forced laborers, South Korea has called on the Japanese government to officially compensate Korean women who worked in wartime brothels. Several survivors and their supporters installed a bronze statue of a young girl in traditional Korean dress in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul in protest in December 2011.
Historians say as many as 200,000 women, mostly from China and Korea, were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army. Japan apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that some victims rejected because it was financed through private contributions. Prime Minister Abe has questioned whether the so-called “comfort women” were forced into prostitution.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto further ignited tensions in May when he said that “anyone could understand” brothels were needed for soldiers facing battle. He later told a Tokyo press conference the use of such sex slaves was “inexcusable” and Japan should express a “heartfelt apology” to the victims. He reiterated that Japan shouldn’t be singled out because other countries’ militaries had also violated women’s rights.
Hackles were raised once again this week, when Finance Minister Taro Aso was quoted by the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper as telling a seminar in Tokyo that Abe’s government, which is considering overhauling the country’s pacifist constitution, should learn from Germany’s Weimar Constitution, which he said was amended quietly, leading to the rise of the Nazis.
“Japanese political leaders should be careful with their words and behavior,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cho Tai Young told reporters yesterday, adding that Aso’s remarks would “obviously hurt many people.”
The fallout from Aso’s remarks were being felt beyond Korea, said Liu Jiangyong, vice director of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“This will not only impact China-Japan relations, it will impact Japan’s relations with other countries, such as Japan-Korea relations and Japan-U.S. relations,” Liu said in a telephone interview. “Nazi Germany and Japanese militarism have long been refuted by the international community.”
Japan and South Korea are also engaged in a dispute over the administration of the Dokdo Islands, known as Takeshima in Japan, which lie between the two countries.
Even amid political tensions, Asia’s second- and fourth-largest economies have common interests in sustaining trade and growth in the region as China’s expansion cools. Ties between the two include taking part in the so-called Chiang Mai regional currency pool, intended to aid stability in times of global financial turbulence.