Moon Jae-in, South Korea's President, said on Saturday that his government was willing to discuss with Japan face-to-face in order to resolve the drawn-out subject of forced labor during the Second World War.

In a televised address commemorating the 75th anniversary of Korea's liberation from the Japanese colonial rule between 1910-45, Moon said, "Our government is ready to sit face-to-face with the Japanese government at any time." He added, "The government respects the judiciary's ruling, and has consulted with Japan's government on a smooth resolution, to which the (South Korean) victims can agree."

Reparation for Victims

South Korean President Moon Jae-in
South Korean President Moon Jae-in Wikimedia Commons

Moon noted that South Korea currently left the door of consultations with Japan "wide open" over the forced labor issue, the Xinhua news agency reported. Four South Korean victims, who were forced into heavy labor without pay during the colonial era, field a damages lawsuit in 2005 against a Japanese steelmaker. Among the four victims, Lee Chun-sik is the only surviving plaintiff.

It was followed by other wartime forced labor victims and their families lodging compensation suits against Japanese companies. South Korea's Supreme Court delivered a ruling in 2018 that ordered some Japanese companies to pay reparation to the victims.

Japan has claimed that all colonial-era issues were settled through a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries, but the South Korean top court ruled that the state-to-state deal did not involve individuals' right to reparation.

Japan Tightens Control Over Exports

Referring to the surviving plaintiff, Moon said: "We will confirm the fact that protecting the dignity of an individual will never be a loss to the country." In an apparent protest against the top court's ruling, Japan tightened control in July last year over its export of three materials vital to producing memory chips and display panels that are the mainstay of South Korea's export.

In August 2019, Japan dropped South Korea off its whitelist of trusted trading partners that are given preferential export procedures. In response, Seoul removed Tokyo from its whitelist of trusted export partners.

(With inputs from agencies)