South Korea And Japan Reach Deal Over Wartime Labor Disputes

This week, South Korea announced a new deal that will compensate the nation’s forced labor victims from Japan’s occupation of Korea. The two nations have been working to better their relationship due to increased security situations. 

“[This is] a groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies,” said US President Joe Biden. 

Park Jin, South Korea’s Foreign Minister, announced on Monday that the government’s Foundation for Victims of Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan will financially compensate 15 victims or their family members using private donations. 

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The decision also follows a 2018 South Korean Supreme Court ruling that stated Japan’s Nippon Steel and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry should compensate 100 million Korean won ($77,000) to each of the 15 South Korean victims who were mobilized between 1940 to 1945 during Japan’s occupation. 

Today, only three of those 15 victims are still alive, and all of them are in their 90s. 

“We welcome the measures announced by the South Korean government today as a way to restore a healthy relationship between Japan and South Korea, which has been in a very difficult situation since South Korea’s Supreme Court ruling in 2018,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters.

“The measures announced by the South Korean government are not on the premise that Japanese companies will contribute to the foundation (in South Korea). The Japanese government doesn’t have any particular stance on voluntary donations by individuals or private companies both in Japan and abroad,” he said according to CNN.

Back in 2018, Japan didn’t agree with the South Korean Supreme Court decision, and no compensation has been paid, leading to increased tensions between the two nations. Japan began restricting exports of materials to South Korea while South Korea disposed of its military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo.

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While the two countries signed a treaty in 1965 meant to settle any lingering issues between them, tensions remained, and South Korea’s military dictatorship at the time led many citizens to feel like the deal wasn’t fair. 

Current South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol has been working hard to mend the relationship, specifically between Seol and Tokyo. The administration wants the two US allies to be on the best terms possible due to an increase in security risks coming from North Korea and their multiple missile tests. 

“Under Yoon, South Korea has been striving to come up with a reasonable solution that is in the common interest of both countries, while respecting the opinions of the forced labor victims,” Foreign Minister Park said Monday.

“I think we need to break the vicious cycle for the people in terms of national interest without neglecting such a prolonged strained relationship between South Korea and Japan,” Park said.

Biden stated that both nations were “taking a critical step to forge a future for the Korean and Japanese people that is safer, more secure, and more prosperous.”

Corey Wallace, an East Asia politics and security analyst at Kanagawa University in Japan, said he sees Monday’s “agreement as an outgrowth of Yoon’s much bolder embrace of Japan as a ‘partner’ over the last nine months.

Both sides have started to adjust their perceptions of the value of trilateral security cooperation and the costs of bilateral antagonism vis-a-vis North Korea. It is also related to broader concerns in both countries about the sustainability of the US military posture in East Asia given both military developments in North Korea and China and recent events in Europe,” Wallace stated. 

South Korea Coronavirus

South Korea Reports Worst Covid-19 Outbreak In Six Months

South Korea warned its citizens this week that they could be facing a wave of new novel coronavirus outbreaks after a church reported more than 300 congressional members being infected. The Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul is responsible for what is now South Korea’s largest outbreak of Covid-19 in six months.

Now, the country is tightening their social distancing rules and discussing even more potential lockdown measures for the upcoming weeks. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported a total of 197 new cases this past Saturday (8/14).

Besides this recent outbreak, South Korea has been one of the world’s only countries to almost completely eradicate the virus, and has acted as a success story of inspiration for other countries and their handling of the pandemic. Spikes in infections have occurred consistently throughout the entire pandemic, however, the country handled each spike with strict quarantine enforcement and intense contact tracing to get to the source of every outbreak.

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South Korea has endured 15,515 positive cases of Covid-19 and 305 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. KCDC director Jeong Eun-Kyeong recently offered an update to the press and citizens of South Korea regarding the recent outbreak.

“We’re seeing the current situation as an initial stage of a large-scale transmission. We’re facing a crisis where if the current spread isn’t controlled, it would bring an exponential rise in cases.”

This rise in cases could lead to a complete collapse of South Korea’s medical system and do some major damage to its economy, according to Eun-Kyeong. The outbreak at the Seoul church parallels a similar incident that occurred at a Christian sect church in the city of Daegu in February. That outbreak became South Korea’s deadliest cluster of Covid-19 cases, as authorities struggled to contain it due to a reluctance from members of the congregation in wanting to cooperate with contact tracing; something that’s also occurring with the new outbreak.

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The vice health minister of South Korea, Kim Gang-Lip, recently spoke with the media about this lack of cooperation and claimed that the church provided inaccurate lists of it’s 4,000+ members. 320 of those members have already tested positive for Covid-19, and more than 600 members – who authorities want to quarantine themselves due to their close-contact with the other 320 infected members – are currently unaccounted for.

The leader of the church is named Jun. He’s 64-years-old and a conservative activist who has spent the past few months organizing anti-government rallies that are in defiance of the government orders for all church members to self-isolate and get tested. These protests have also raised a lot of concerns among healthcare professionals, as they believe participants are getting infected during these gatherings.

The ban on church services was lifted in South Korea in April, although participants were required to register for each service and continue to social distance. Because of this, Jun’s lawyers claim that he did not violate any quarantine rules nor intentionally provide inaccurate information to authorities regarding members and their health status’.

Kim stated to the press that if the rate of new infections doesn’t start to go down after this week the government would be tightening their lockdown measures which would likely shut down all indoor meetings of 50 people or more, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more. The health ministry has also filed a formal complaint against Jun specifically for violating quarantine rules and “obstructing contact tracing by failing to provide a full list of members” to authorities.