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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More