News / Asia

Japan, S. Korea Rift Widens With Court Ruling on Wartime Abuses

FILE - South Korean protesters denounce alleged wartime abuses by Japan during a rally in Seoul in this March 7, 2007.FILE - South Korean protesters denounce alleged wartime abuses by Japan during a rally in Seoul in this March 7, 2007.
x
FILE - South Korean protesters denounce alleged wartime abuses by Japan during a rally in Seoul in this March 7, 2007.
FILE - South Korean protesters denounce alleged wartime abuses by Japan during a rally in Seoul in this March 7, 2007.
TEXT SIZE - +
Daniel Schearf
— A court in South Korea this week for the first time ordered a Japanese company to pay compensation to victims of forced labor during Japan's colonial rule. The unprecedented ruling could bolster pending cases and grievances against Japan for wartime abuses. Analysts say it may also widen a rift in relations between the two countries.

The Seoul High Court ruled Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corporation must pay four South Korean men $88,0000 each for forcing them to work in their factories in the 1940s.
 
It is the first time a court ordered a Japanese company to pay compensation for wartime abuses.
 
Cases brought by other wartime victims since the 1990s in both Japan and South Korea ruled in favor of the Japanese companies. They argued the restructured Japanese companies of today were not responsible for actions of their predecessors.
 
The men were forced to work for Japan Iron and Steel Company, which later changed its name to Nippon Steel. It merged last year with Sumitomo Metal to become the second largest steelmaker in the world.
 
One of the elderly men, 90-year-old Yeo Woon-taek, described how the company treated him at a news conference after the court ruling.
 
He said he was captured by Japan and, as a slave of Japan for two years, was beaten many times and starved many times. He said he almost died as he worked with electricity in dangerous conditions.
 
The steel company said it would appeal and quickly rejected the ruling as unjustified and against a 1965 agreement between Japan and South Korea for wartime reparations.
 
The agreement gave South Korea $800 million in grants and loans and normalized diplomatic relations.
 
But, South Korea's Supreme Court last year ruled the treaty was between countries and did not prevent individuals from claiming compensation.
 
Lee Jang-hie, a professor of law at Seoul's Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said the ruling is likely to encourage further successful lawsuits against Japanese companies for abuses during World War II.
 
He said even though there were only four victims at the court, there are many others who did not file lawsuits. However, he said, if other victims file lawsuits then they will also win.
 
There are at least four pending similar cases in South Korean courts, including one against Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with an expected ruling at the end of this month.
 
During its 35 years of colonial rule, Japan forced hundreds of thousands of Koreans to work in factories, much of it for the war effort.
 
Tense relations

The unprecedented ruling comes as relations between Japan and South Korea have cooled over disputed territory and war-time atrocities.
 
Former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak upset Japan last year by visiting a pair of disputed islands, known as Dokdo in South Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
 
In Japan, leaders upset Korea by casting doubt on World War II abuses such as forcing Korean women into prostitution as so-called “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers.
 
“Japanese-Korean relations are arguably in the worst state that they've been in decades," noted Thomas Berger, a professor of international relations at Boston University and author of War, Guilt and World Politics after World War II. "And, certainly, they can get a lot worse. But, certainly, if...Korean courts start seizing property of the Japanese, this will really lead to further disruption.”
 
President Park Geun-Hye was the first South Korean leader to have a state visit to China before Japan, a move widely interpreted as a snub.
 
She was inaugurated in February but has yet to schedule a meeting with nationalist Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
 
Tough balancing act

Berger said the Japanese leader has not made it easy for President Park by making controversial statements about Japan's war-time aggression.

“She is the daughter of former Korean military dictator Park Chung-hee who was president in 1965 when Korean-Japanese relations were normalized. And, she is in a situation where it is very difficult for her to be soft and conciliatory on these issues because her personal background can be used against her by her political opponents,” he explained.
 
Despite the tensions, Berger said Korea and Japan have a lot of fundamental interests, which should help put the two countries back on friendly terms.
 
They are both liberal democracies and U.S. allies, major trading partners, and have common security concerns regarding North Korea.
 
There are also cultural ties. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Koreans became Japanese citizens after the war and occupation ended.
 
VOA Seoul Producer Kim Youmi contributed to this report.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid