Inhae reads the news: August 2020

I only had time for two topics this month:

  • Korean court ruling on forced labour victims: aftermaths
  • 75th anniversary of the end of WWII.

News 1: Korean court ruling on forced labour victims: aftermaths

This might not have been a breaking news in Japanese media, but this is one of the topics I am the most interested in, so we’ll start this month with the Korean Court ruling over the forced labourers issue.

Along with the comfort women issue, the forced labourers issue remains a topic of tension between Japan and Korea. During the end of WWII, as Korea was under Japanese rule (1910-1945), a large number of Koreans were conscripted to participate in Japan’s war effort, either as soldiers or as workers in factories and mines. Many of them worked in very poor conditions. I saw the numbers of 670,000 labourers sent to Japan and 60,000 deaths, but I don’t have sources other than Wikipedia.

If you are interested in this issue, you can watch the Korean film The Battleship Island, which is an action film with historical background, not an accurate historical film. I personally disliked it, but if you like action films, this one gives at least an idea of how the problem is depicted in Korea.

Korean and Japanese governments have settled the issue with the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 1965. Japan has provided financial compensation to Korea for its colonial rule, and the treaty was supposed to close the issue. The Japanese government has since refused any claim for individual compensation by Koreans, saying that the matter had been completely and finally settled by the treaty of 1965.

In 2018 however, the Supreme Court of South Korea ruled that 10 forced labour victims were able to claim compensation from several Japanese companies including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Nachi-Fujikoshi and Nippon Steel. The court’s argument was that the treaty only covers government-level compensations and not individual compensations.

The Japanese government’s response has been to restrict exports to South Korea and to remove the country from its list of favoured trading partners, leading to the recent Japan-South Korea trade dispute and to a palpable deterioration of the two countries’ relationship.

As the Japanese firms have refused to pay, the Korean court has issued the order to forcibly seize and liquidate the assets of two Japanese firms, Nippon Steel and Nachi-Fujikoshi Corp.. However, the documents stipulating the court order had not been delivered to the firms in question, which has delayed the proceedings to liquidating the firms’ assets.

On Tuesday 4th, the documents finally reached the Japanese firms and the news made the editorial of two newspapers:

Mainichi: 徴用工問題の深刻化 韓国は最悪の事態回避を
Sankei: 「徴用工」問題 現金化なら直ちに制裁を

Useful vocabulary

徴用工ちょうようこうDrafted worker, conscripted worker.
This seems to be the word widely used in Japan to refer to Korean forced labourers. This particular issue we are talking about is referred to as 徴用工訴訟問題. In English, the term “forced labour” is generally used. Similarly, Koreans use the term 강제노동(强制勞動, forced labour) or, to be sure, 강제징용노동(强制徵用勞動, forced conscripted labour), which sounds a little redundant.
In this case, the plaintiff won the lawsuit, so we see the word 勝訴 (しょうそ, victory in a legal suit)
資産しさんproperty, wealth. Here: assets.
現金化げんきんかChanging into cash.
I don’t know concretely how it works, but as the Japanese firms have refused to pay compensations to the plaintiffs, Korea will seize their assets and change them into money to compensate the victims.
売却ばいきゃくsale, disposal by sale.
Here again, we are talking about the Japanese firms assets.
Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of Korea is named 大法院, and is often referred to as 大韓民国大法院 or 韓国大法院 in Japanese.
Agreement signed alongside the treaty of 1965.
The complete name of the agreement is super long: 財産及び請求権に関する問題の解決並びに経済協力に関する日本国と大韓民国との間の協定.
I am not sure, but I think that it is this particular agreement that stated 1-the compensation provided by Japan to Korea, 2- that wartime issues were completely and finally settled (完全かつ最終的に解決された), and 3- that Korea agreed to demand no further compensation.
International articles usually refer to the Treaty itself (in Japanese: 日本国と大韓民国との間の基本関係に関する条約 or simply 日韓基本条約), but I found that Japanese newspapers often refer to the agreement rather than the treaty.
Separation of powers.
The separation of powers is the reason given by president Moon Jae-in to justify his not interfering with the court ruling.

No need to say that Mainichi and Sankei’s editorial will have a very different tone on this matter. I except Sankei to strongly condemn Korea’s government and court ruling, while I guess that Mainichi’s position would be more balanced.

Now that the documents have reached Japanese firms, the formalities leading to the liquidation of the assets can proceed. Even though the whole process might take several months, Mainichi deplores that it will lead to an inevitable deterioration of the two countries relationship once it is done.

Mainichi criticises the Korean government, saying that it must have foreseen that Japan would be forced to respond, and that it would lead to a new crisis:


The Japanese government will not have other choice but to take countermeasures against the liquidation, because it must protect the property of its citizens. This is something that the Korean government was aware of from the start.

Sankei has a similar paragraph but the formulation is very different:


If the property of Japanese firms is stolen undeservedly to convert into cash, our government must take at once strict sanctions against Korea. And we mustn’t relax the sanctions as long as Korea has not reverted the court’s decision and apologized.

Theses two paragraphs bear the same meaning, but with different formulations: Mainichi says that Japan will have no other choice than to respond (取らざるをえない), while Sankei says that it must respond (踏み切るべきだ). Sankei also uses the expression “undeservedly steal” while Mainichi only talks about “protecting Japanese properties”. Finally, Mainichi talks about “countermeasures” while Sankei uses the word “sanctions”.

Just after talking about the inevitable Japanese response, Mainichi adds:


This is something that the Korean government was aware of from the start.

This implies that Moon Jae-in government, while foreseeing that the court ruling would lead to new tensions between the two countries, decided to stay put and let the situation worsen.

Sankei, in its more direct manner, also blame Moon Jae-in and his government for the past (and certainly upcoming) tensions:


Japanese firms are leaving Korea one after the other and the basis of the two countries relationship is undermined, but this situation has been brought on by Moon Jae-in government itself, who encouraged this judicial madness.

Moon Jae-in invoked the separation of powers to say that he could not interfere with the court’s ruling. But Mainichi says that the treaty signed by the two countries is a political matter, not a judicial one. As a consequence, justice should not interfere with what has been agreed upon by both governments.

Mainichi ends its article by criticising both governments. Korea for deteriorating international relationships:


If a judicial judgement can unilaterally change the field of application of a treaty half a century after it has been concluded, it will be difficult to build stable international relationship.

And Japan for its response to it:


However, Japan’s high-handed posture can only be counterproductive. If bringing out retaliatory measures was enough to influence Korea’s decisions, the situation would be under control long ago.

For Sankei, there is no need to pay compensation now, not because the matter had been settled with the treaty of 1965 but because there was no reason to pay in the first place:


There is no need to answer these claims in the first place. The order of compensation itself is an outrage that disregards the agreement between Japan and Korea and twists history. We cannot accept it.

Sankei obviously criticises the court ruling:


The judgement made by the Supreme Court of South Korea to order compensation is hard to believe, with assumptions like: “The Japanese government’s inhuman and illegal actions that are directly connected with the illegal colonial rule and war of aggression [against Korea]”.

I guess that the reason why Sankei quotes this sentence as “difficult to believe” is because of the expression “war of aggression”. The annexation of Korea has not been made by a military invasion of the country. The usurpation of Korea’s sovereignty by Japan has been made by increments, during and in the aftermaths of the Russo-Japanese war. The Japan-Korea Protocol of 1904 allowed Japan to interfere in domestic matters and to use strategic locations in Korea. The Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 deprived Korea of its diplomatic sovereignty and made Korea a protectorate of Japan. Another Japan-Korea Treaty established in 1907 the office of a Japanese Resident General and deprived Korea of the administration of its internal affairs. Finally, political machinations, pressure, intimidation and a growing presence of Japanese military in Korea have led to the signature of the Japan-Korea Annexation treaty of 1910. Obviously, all theses treaties have been forced on Korea, but I think that the expression “war of aggression” in the context of Korea’s annexation is strictly speaking incorrect. At least, I guess that this is what Sankei is pointing out.

Finally, Sankei refutes that Korean labourers were treated differently than Japanese ones:


It is a fact that Koreans were working [for Japanese companies] since the national mobilisation decree in September 1944, but it was not forced (slaved) labour as Korea says. They were nothing more than legally mobilised wartime workers who received wages and who worked in the same conditions than Japanese workers.

I think that Sankei is using the words 朝鮮半島出身者 and 内地人 instead of “Korean” and “Japanese” to emphasise the fact that Korea was a part of Japan at the time. I simplified in my translation.

Sankei goes as far as saying that if compensation must be paid, it should be paid by Korea to Japan, to repay for the compensations already provided according to the treaty of 1965.

Note: you can also read Sankei’s editorial of the 16th which has a similar anti-Moon Jae-in vibe to it.

To conclude, Sankei and Mainichi both criticise Korea’s court ruling but not for the same reason. Mainichi points out two problems: 1- the inevitable tensions this ruling will lead to and 2- the awkward contradiction of this ruling with the treaty of 1965, but they do not question the status of Korean forced labourers. Sankei however criticises the ruling because they consider that there was no need for compensation in the first place.

Topic 2: End of WWII: 75th Anniversary

On August 15th, Japan marked the 75th anniversary of its surrender and the end of WWII. A ceremony organised by the government was held in Tokyo on the 15th, but with anti-coronavirus measures, attendance was only of 550 persons compared to the 6000 of last year.

During the ceremony, Emperor Naruhito expressed deep remorse over Japan’s wartime actions.

Prime Minister Abe has not offered apologies during his speech, but he refrained from visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

Needless to say, our newspapers have all devoted one, if not several, editorials to the end of the war anniversary. I will only study:

Yomiuri: 戦後75年 国際協調維持へ役割果たそう
Mainichi: 戦後75年を迎えて 歴史を置き去りにしない
Asahi: 戦後75年の現在地 不戦と民主の誓い、新たに

Useful vocabulary:

終戦しゅうせんthe end of the war
戦没者せんぼつしゃthe war dead
追悼式ついとうしきa memorial service
昭和戦争しょうわせんそうExpression used by Yomiuri Shimbun to talk about the wars of the Showa period: the Mukden Incident, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War.
International Military Tribunal for the Far East
日米開戦にちべいかいせんThe start of the war between Japan and the United States
治安維持法ちあんいじほうPeace Preservation Law.
Series of laws enacted from 1894 to 1925 in order to suppress political dissent. They drastically restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
挙国一致きょこくいっちないかくNational unity.
負の歴史ふのれきしNegative or dark side of a country’s history.
I don’t know how to translate this word… Is “negative history” a term in English? It seems to be mainly used in the medical field… I guess “dark side of history” is okay? Or maybe it is best to talk about “negative legacy of history”?
国民主権こくみんしゅけんThe principle of popular sovereignty

Mainichi and Asahi editorials contain the same message. They both warn against populism which led to Japan’s going into war with the United States, and they underline the importance of public awareness and its capacity to question government’s decisions. However, Mainichi is ending its article on a positive note, while Asahi is noting that Abe government is threatening democracy.

As for Yomiuri, it has a very different editorial. While warning against populism and calling for peace, the article also calls to strenghten the role of the SDF and teach “correct” history.

Mainichi underlines that just before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the public opinion was largely in favour of the war. Many intellectuals of the time were supporting the war against the United States:


Many intellectuals have mentioned their sense of exhalation in their poems or diaries at the news of Japan declaring war to the United States.

Mainichi quotes Yoko Kato (professor at Tokyo University and author of 『それでも、日本人は「戦争」を選んだ』) to explain the reason for this pro-war sentiment among the Japanese public. Yoko Kato says that since the Mukden Incident, Japanese people have been fed with anti-american/british discourses.

Asahi makes a similar remark about the main sentiment among the citizens before the outbreak of war. The article says that Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” applies also to Japan and quotes Shinpei Ikejima from the magazine 文芸春秋 supporting the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mainichi and Asahi also mention that at the time, media were not free:

Asahi: 治安維持法などにより、言論が厳しく取り締まられた時代である。軍部が情報を操作し、朝日新聞を含むメディアは真実を伝えず、国民は多くを知らないまま一色に染まった。

It was a time were freedom of speech was rigorously controlled with regulations like the Peace Preservation Laws. The military authorities fabricated information and media, Asahi included, were all uniformly reporting the same things, hiding the truth to the people and letting them in ignorance.

Mainichi also mentions the Peace Preservation Laws, and the fact that the authorities had supressed anti-war discourses. People did not have access to proper information and embraced the war under the slogan of national unity. The article also adds:


Media too spread information that inflamed people’s nationalism.

Both newspapers insist on the importance of social and political awareness among citizens, especially in a time of crisis, like the coronavirus crisis we are living now.

For Mainichi, the coronavirus crisis has led people to question the government’s decisions and actions:


[…] It might well be the first time since the war that the citizens so massively question what the government must do and closely and carefully watch the government’s measures.

And Mainichi concludes that it is the political and social awareness of the people that makes a strong society.

For Asahi, however, the growing awareness of the public is darkened by the tendency of Abe government to conceal information from the public.


But isn’t it the government who is turning its back on [democratic principles of our Constitution], with the number of times where Abe government has treated the Diet lightly. Far from disclosing the information that the citizens need, they have gone as far as abusing their power by concealing and falsifying official documents. It is nothing less than a profanation of popular sovereignty.

Yomiuri’s article also warns against populism, but the general tone is different. Taking North Korea’s constant threat as an example, the article mentions the necessity to give the SDF a wider range of action:


The most pressing menace is North Korea who sends provocation after provocation and is moving forward with its launch of missiles and its nuclear programme. It is essential to work towards strengthening the alliance between Japan and the United States and to reinforce the function of the SDF.

I don’t know exactly what they mean by “自衛隊の役割を強化し”. Do they just mean “to ascertain” the SDF status by amending the article 9 of the Constitution or do they mean “to augment” the SDF function by allowing it to participate in more military operations (not just defence and humanitarian operations)?

Then, mentioning territorial dispute with Russia and the Korean issue of the forced labourers, Yomiuri ends its article by saying:


75 years after the end of the war, it is important to teach correct history relative to territorial questions and how things have been settled after the war to the younger generations.

We are far from Mainichi’s own call:


What we need is to understand the true nature of war. It is not something we can achieve by putting ideology first or by being obsessive with saving the face of our country. We can only achieve it through a dialogue that does not stop at the negative sides of our history.