SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

Kimiya Tadashi:“How to overcome the critical situation between Japan and Korea?”


Just after the G-20 Osaka Summit in June 2019, the third North Korea-United States summit was held at Panmunjon (板門店), Korea.  And on July 1st, immediately after the G-20 Summit, the Japanese Government released a press release about the regulatory measures of the METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry)’s licensing policies and procedures on exports of controlled items to the Republic of Korea. At first, given the timing of the announcement, most people thought that it was a “countermeasure” against the government of President Moon Jae-in who did not respond to the judicial decision regarding the wartime laborers by the Korean Supreme Court in October 2018. People anticipated that it could be possible that the Japanese Government would take countermeasures against this if the assets of Japanese companies in Korea would be forcefully cashed by the Korean government for reparation purposes, which would result in visible damages to Japanese companies.



The rights of Korean sufferers, who could not get any relief, should be reinstated.

But, it should be done on the basis of “The Agreement for the Rights to Claims between Japan and Korea” which was signed in 1965 as the foundation of the “promise between the two countries”.  However, the Korean Supreme Court has tried to supersede the conditions of the agreement, despite the sentences being “perfectly and irreversibly” declared by interpreting “an extent of the agreement” in narrower terms than the “intention of lawmakers”.  Such an understanding might be supported in South Korea. However, in Japan, it has hardly been accepted.  These differences should have been resolved as “diplomatic issues”. Accordingly, South Korea should have sought agreement with the Japanese side through negotiation or made a proposal which does not go against judicial decisions and the agreement.

In any case, this issue should be handled by the government of President Moon Jae-in.



Response by the government of President Moon Jae-in after the judicial decision was slow. President Moon himself, who had the experience of a counsel for a similar lawsuit, might have held the conviction that Japanese companies should provide compensation. Surrounding staff members might have thought favorably of President Moon. In Japan, there is the opinion that responsibility for this judicial decision should belong to the government of President Moon. However, the “original judgement” was made at a small claims court in the Supreme Court in May 2015, the last period of President Lee Myung-bak. Park Geun-hye, the following President, tried to take some countermeasures considering the potential destructive impact it might have on Japan and South Korea relations.  But, she failed as she was soon impeached and dismissed.  Furthermore, the head of the Supreme Court was arrested under the government of President Moon, the reason being that he exercised illegal “judicial monopoly” by trying to adjust relations between administration and judicature.



In Korea, people strongly believe that the Korean Government should negotiate with the Japanese Government to accept the judgement by the Korean Supreme Court and the Japanese Government and companies should abide by the judgement.


I personally think it should be left to the judgement of the companies whether they follow the judgement or not. As for the Japanese government, they consider that the judgement by the Korean Supreme court is against “The Agreement for the Rights to Claims between Japan and Korea” which was made “perfectly and irreversibly”.


This means that if the judicial procedures in Korea proceed as is, the Japanese government would have to take some “counter measures”.



However, how can we justify “counter measures” which the Japanese Government took before Japanese companies experienced any visible damages? Furthermore, they explained that they decided to take “export regulatory measures” for security reasons given that strategic goods or techniques are being outsourced to third party countries (such as North Korea or China) . in the belief that they would not get any support internationally for their “counter measures”.   



In any case, we cannot deny either side regardless of the explanation by the Japanese government of what they regard as “protective counter measures” against the encashment of assets of Japanese companies in Korea. This measure has led to great tumult in Korea.  Far from being effective, the Japanese counter measure has brought about “solidarity” in Korea by encouraging a hardline stance against Japan. At first, Korean parties, both conservative and opposition, criticized the “no policy” stance against Japan by the Moon government. But, this criticism against the government changed to criticism against Japan. The wartime labor (victims of forced labor) issue, which was the reason for the “great tumult”, disappeared into thin air and Koreans now think that Japan is trying to make Korea yield through spiteful actions. Behind the act of boycotting (non-selling and non-buying) of Japanese goods in Korea, there seems to be a Korean “simple sense of justice” rather than anti-Japanese sentiment which came from the historical experience of Korea. 



If Japan seriously considered this issue not as a simple “expedient” and did not consider Korea as “a problem country” from a security viewpoint, that would be a big change for Japanese diplomacy and security from previous standpoints.  We cannot deny the Abe administration’s new policy which can be called a “re-definition” of Japan and South Korea relations”.  They even deleted the sentence “Japan shares basic values, market economy and democracy, with South Korea” from governmental documents and even stated that they lowered the diplomatic order of priority for Korea.  As proof, Japan showed that South Korea sided with North Korea rather than staying with allied nations such as Japan and America, or that South Korea showed their ambiguous attitude in their response to the confrontation between America and China.  Japan should give a convincing explanation about not only South Korea but also America which shares an alliance with Japan and South Korea. Needless to say, Japan should give this explanation to a domestic as well as international audience.  



At present, however, Japan has not given any explanation about their change in attitude toward South Korea for security reasons. We cannot evaluate the “counter measures” this time because there are a lot of incomprehensible parts to it. It may be difficult also to withdraw the “measure” without any reasons. 



As for the judicial decision for the wartime laborers, which was a cause of the great tumult this time, I think it is necessary for Korea to present their proposals which are compatible with the judicial decision by the Korean Supreme Court and the Agreement for the Rights to Claim between Japan and Korea. Providing relief for the victims (wartime laborers) should be the basis of this proposal. It should not be on the basis of how to compensate the victims by Japanese companies. In other words, it should be on the basis for compensation by Korean and Japanese companies to take part in voluntarily under the initiative of the Korean government. It is necessary for the Japanese government also to boldly withdraw their “counter measure” if their anxiety can be cleared by talking with South Korea about national security.    



Relations between Japan and South Korea have been unsymmetrical and complementary, but changed to symmetrical and competitive and compete with each other now under “justice”. So, it will be difficult to solve this issue on a so-called zero-sum basis: namely, either one side will be correct and the other side wrong. As far as this game continues, both sides will only end up miserable like the so-called “chicken game”.  This confrontation, which started directly from historical issues, is now extending to affect the economy and security.   



What should we do?  It would be difficult to relieve or dissolve this confrontation without a clear government standpoint and direct negotiations. Japan and South Korea should consider the intentions of the other first.



They should judge what their top priority would be, how they would get it and what they would sacrifice. Then, it is necessary to proceed with their intellectual (not emotional) negotiation consciously and distinguish it from their diplomatic, security and social viewpoints. Not only political leaders but citizens also have to keep this situation of both countries in mind.



Now, there is a movement by nongovernmental organizations and/or local governmental bodies in Korea to discontinue their exchanges with Japan.  I want the government of President Moon Jae-in to be clear on their standpoint and forthrightly state whether this is an act that is necessary or not. 


SGRA Kawaraban 604 in Japanese (Original)



Kimiya Tadashi /Professor of the University of Tokyo (Liberal Arts)



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sonja Dale