Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Media Appearance: "Tokyo Keeps Defending World War II Atrocities" on Foreign Policy

Here is my latest for the Foreign Policy magazine, discussing the international law aspect of the current row between South Korea and Japan over the South Korean Supreme Court decision holding Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation liable for use of slave labor during World War II. While Japan usually claims the treaties of 1965 with South Korea resolved the issue of claims held by individuals, I find that argument to be tendentious:
[T]he 1965 treaties make no reference to whether Japan’s colonial rule over Korea had any legitimacy. If Japan’s negotiators for the 1965 treaties, representing the administration led by Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda, truly believed that Japan owed nothing to Korea, and if the treaty’s text makes no reference to whether imperial Japan committed any wrong to Korea for which compensation is required, it follows that whatever money Japan paid to Korea pursuant to the treaties settled nothing. Indeed, while answering questions about the treaties to Japan’s legislature in 1965, Foreign Minister Etsusaburo Shiina characterized the payment not as reparations for a wrong, but as a congratulatory gesture for Korea’s independence. A state cannot bargain in a treaty for something it never admitted to in the first place.
Tokyo Keeps Defending World War II Atrocities [Foreign Policy]

A few factual details I could not work into the article--

(1) The litigation took 13 years, and the plaintiff in fact won twice before the Supreme Court. In the first victory in 2012, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Korea held that Korean courts did not give recognition to the judgments from Japanese courts holding former Korean forced laborers had no recourse against the companies that used their slave labors. The case then went back to the lower court for damages, which was then re-appealed.

(2) The second round of the Supreme Court deliberation took five years, from 2013 to 2018. The delay was in part because South Korea's previous administration led by Park Geun-hye applied pressure to the Supreme Court to delay the issuance of the opinion, for fear of damaging relations with Japan. This pressure campaign is one of many corruption scandals that landed Park in prison.

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