Moon admits he was “a bit thrown” by court ruling on comfort women issue

Posted on : 2021-01-19 18:37 KST Modified on : 2021-01-19 18:37 KST
S. Korean president addresses forced labor and Japan’s export controls during New Year’s press conference
South Korean President Moon Jae-in gives a New Year’s press conference at the Blue House on Jan. 18. (Blue House photo pool)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in gives a New Year’s press conference at the Blue House on Jan. 18. (Blue House photo pool)

President Moon Jae-in said he was “frankly a bit thrown” by a Jan. 8 court ruling that did not apply the customary international law principle of state immunity to the issue of compensation victims of wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military.

Moon also commented on the October 2018 ruling on compensating victims of forced labor mobilization by imperial Japan, which has been the main factor behind the recent falling-out with Tokyo.

“It isn’t desirable to have an approach where [assets seized from Japanese companies] are liquidated or the ruling is achieved through compulsory execution,” he said. His remarks were seen as more clearly showing his commitment to improving ties with Japan, which has been in evidence since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took office in September 2020.

In a New Year’s press conference at the Blue House on Jan. 18, Moon pointed to Japan’s controls on exports to South Korea and the Supreme Court ruling on victims of forced labor as matters to be resolved between Seoul and Tokyo.

“Actually, I was frankly a bit thrown when the matter of the comfort woman judgment was added into things amid our efforts [toward a diplomatic resolution],” he confessed. This suggests that the judgment emerged as a surprise wrinkle at a time when Seoul had been seeking out diplomatic solutions in the wake of the sharp tensions during the second half of 2019 over the Supreme Court ruling on forced labor.

The administration reportedly expected that the South Korean court would dismiss the ruling out of respect for the customary international law principle of state immunity, which holds that sovereign acts by countries are not subject to trials in another country’s courts. In the case of the “comfort women” issue, compensation had already been provided to many survivors through the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which was established with the 1 billion yen (US$9.6 million) Tokyo paid as part of an agreement it concluded with Seoul on Dec. 28, 2015. Many of the 32 plaintiffs in the two current comfort women trials have reportedly received payments of 100 million won (US$90,590) from the foundation.

Moon already reaffirmed that any diplomatic solutions would require the “consent of the plaintiffs.”

“I believe that our two governments can discuss an approach that the plaintiffs will agree to, and that the South Korean government can work calmly to solve the issue by taking that approach to the plaintiffs and working its hardest to win them over,” he said.

The Japanese government is maintaining that the two sides’ relationship cannot be improved without a solution on the forced labor issue.

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

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