South Korea plans compensation for forced laborers

STORY: The South Korean government on Thursday (January 12) unveiled a plan to compensate victims of Japan's wartime forced labor.

The funds would be paid through the government's own public foundation - instead of using funds from Japanese companies.

The announcement has prompted a backlash from victims and their families, saying the plan would relieve Japan of its obligation to pay and apologize.

The unresolved legacy of Japan's colonization from 1910-45, including restitution for Koreans forced to work at Japanese firms and in military brothels, has long been a source of contention between the two countries.

In 2018 South Korea's Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to pay reparations to former forced laborers.

Although 15 South Koreans have won such cases, none have yet been compensated.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry's Director-general for Asia Pacific Affairs, Seo Min-Jung defended Thursday's plan at the public hearing:

"The government would visit the plaintiffs, victims and their families, ask whether they have intention of receiving it, explain thoroughly, and ask for full consent before making a decision."

The proposals would see the compensation foundation funded by businesses that benefited from a 1965 treaty in which South Korea received an $800 million package from Japan.

The Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan said it has secured initial donations from steelmaker POSCO totalling 4 billion won ($3.2 million). POSCO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

But Kim Young-Hwan, activist and director of victim aid organization Civic Group remained unconvinced.

"It's completely discharging responsibilities of Japan, I can't help but raise a serious issue."

"There's no other way to be compensated for their lost youth, so they are saying they want an apology."

Tokyo’s top spokesperson, declined to comment on Seoul’s compensation plan or its public hearing, saying they were domestic matters within South Korea.

The rows over Japan and South Korea's wartime history have fueled concern over efforts to step up cooperation between the two key U.S. allies to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.