08:22 GMT +313 November 2018
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    A South Korean policeman walks past a statue (C) of a teenage girl in traditional costume called the peace monument for former comfort women who served as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul on December 29, 2015.

    Seoul Issues Japanese War Crime Ruling, Sparks Diplomatic Row With Tokyo

    © AFP 2018 / JUNG YEON-JE
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    South Korea and Japan's latest diplomatic row comes after Seoul's highest court issued a landmark ruling on individual rights to compensation for Japanese colonial-era crimes.

    The Supreme Court ruling upheld a 2013 verdict favoring four South Koreans subjected to hard labor during Imperial Japan's colonial rule over the peninsula.  

    The court decision contradicted a previous Japanese ruling to dismiss personal rights to compensation for wartime crimes and ordered Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to pay 100m won (US $87,720) to the victims. 

    Seoul's supreme courts clarified that individual compensation rights remained valid, despite settling reparations claims at the government level in 1965. 

    The ruling ended roughly 14 years of legal disputes over the issue and is expected to affect around a dozen more, inundating courts with new cases and damaging already tense Korea-Japan ties. 

    "The ruling is expected to shake the foundation of South Korea-Japan relations maintained since the signing of the 1965 agreement on the settlement of problems related to property, claims and economic cooperation," one anonymous senior foreign ministry official told Yonhap News Agency.   

    But Japanese officials maintain that such cases have already been "fully and finally resolved," with Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono slamming the ruling as "very regrettable and totally unacceptable" in a press statement.   

    "This decision clearly violates Article II of the Agreement and inflicts unjustifiable damages and costs on the said Japanese company," Kono continued.  

    "Above all, the decision completely overthrows the legal foundation of the friendly and cooperative relationship that Japan and the Republic of Korea have developed since the normalization of diplomatic relations in 1965," he said. 

    If measures to remedy the decision are not taken, Japanese officials may "examine all possible options" to protect "the legitimate business activities by Japanese companies," the statement continued, with Tokyo potentially appealing cases to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  

    "If that happens, it's hard to say we will surely win the ICJ suit," Seoul's ministry official said.  

    Former Vice foreign minister and ambassador to Tokyo Shin Kak-soo told Yonhap News that chances were high that "South Korea-Japan relations will be exacerbated further," adding that both countries should work through the consequences of the ruling, which could destroy over five decades of bilateral ties. 

    History of Bilateral Relations 

    The latest diplomatic row has forced Seoul's foreign ministry to review its official stance on compensations, in addition to its strategy towards Japan. 

    The ruling will also change how Seoul handles Tokyo's comfort women scandal, where Japanese Imperial soldiers forced nearly 400,000 Korean, Chinese, and Filipino women into prostitution, causing further tensions after Japan funded the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation for victims. 

    Current South Korean president Moon Jae-In insinuated he would disband the foundations due to public outcry over the December 2015 agreement signed between former South Korean president Park Geun-Hye and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. 

    The two countries were to reaffirm bilateral relations this year based on the 1998 joint declaration between former Korean president Kim Dae-Jung and Japanese prime minister Keizo Obuchi, both whom pledge to build a "new partnership toward the 21st century" following PM Obuchi public apology for Japan's war crimes. 

    "It's a very difficult problem and there's no certain solution," Korea University professor Park Hong-kyu told Yonhap. "The government will have to prepare for a response prudently, rather than rushing to react."

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    Tags:
    court decision, war crimes, court case, Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, UN International Court of Justice, Taro Kono, Kim Dae-jung, Moon Jae-in, Shinzo Abe, Seoul, South Korea
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