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.
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

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid