The forced labor row currently affecting South Korea and Japan was technically solved in 1965 with the treaty on Bilateral Relations. This treaty aimed to solve all issues between the countries post-WWII, yet various civic and government groups since its signing have disregarded its legality. The latest proof of this was a South Korean Supreme Court’s decision to award damages to forced labor victims of the Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation.
The lawsuit awarded forced labor employees 100 million won each for their participation of labor during World War II. Japan has declared this decision as “unthinkable,” citing a number of treaties reached between residents of the two countries in the years since the end of colonial Japan’s occupation of the Korean peninsula.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made a statement at a press briefing that Japan was in close contact with firms affected by the case and those experiencing similar suits. Suga said Tokyo was waiting for Seoul to take steps to redress what is seen as a violation of international law.
During World War II, Japan occupied a vast majority of the eastern hemisphere, including modern-day South Korea, North Korea, some of Manchuria (China), Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. In the past, the two countries have battled over wartime reparations, wherein Seoul seems to dismiss any apologies, payments or treaties that Japan has made – regardless of their standing in textbook international law.
The Treaty on Bilateral Relations of 1965 was an agreement between the countries of Japan and South Korea. It established official diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea. Because South Korea was not a signatory to the San Francisco Treaty, the country was not entitled to the benefits stipulated in Article 14.
The 1965 Agreement addressed agreements between Japan and South Korea which concerned the settlements of disputes of property claims and economic cooperation. Japan awarded Korea a total of $800 million. According to the agreement, regards to property and monetary claims between Japan and South Korea have been solved, and the current South Korean lawsuit against the steel company is in direct violation.