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

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.