Seoul will listen to forced labor victims after compensation plan backlash

Seoul, Mar 10 (EFE).- The South Korean government said Friday that it will listen to people subjected to forced labor by Japanese companies during World War II after a plan to compensate them announced earlier this week drew criticism.

“We are aware of public and media criticism and going forward we will listen to the victims,” a senior government official told the media in Seoul.

“It’s been less than a week since we came up with this. We still haven’t taken the first step and we have to look forward and go step by step and we expect public opinion to eventually shift,” he added.

On Monday, Seoul presented a plan to compensate 15 Korean citizens who won lawsuits in 2018 against Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi’s heavy industry division, for being subjected to forced labor in the early 1940s, under Japanese colonial rule.

The scheme is funded by South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 bilateral relations treaty, under which Japan gave $300 million in grants, and another $500 million it gave in soft loans as compensation.

Most of the money was invested by the South Korean government in the private sector and in infrastructure projects.

In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel to compensate South Korean citizens who were forced into unpaid labor during World War II.

The ruling was rejected by the companies and by Tokyo, which argued that compensation for more than a million victims enslaved by Japanese companies was settled as per the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations.

In order to prevent bilateral ties from worsening, the government of President Yoon Suk-yeol, presented the controversial compensation plan after months of bilateral consultations.

According to surveys, around 60 percent of South Koreans reject the plan and believe that it does not constitute the apology and compensation that the victims demand from Japanese companies and authorities.

The senior official admitted that Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi’s remarks welcoming the proposal did not include an explicit apology, in line with statements made by previous Japanese governments in the past.

The South Korean official also said that there was no guarantee that Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida would issue an apology during a summit with President Yoon next week, the first in 12 years. EFE


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