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Sunday, December 27, 2015

[Constitutional Appeal on South Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Dismissed] Diplomatic Pressure Eased, but Final Supreme Court Ruling Still Remains

On December 23, the Constitutional Court dismissed the constitutional appeal on Article 2, Clause 1 of the South Korea-Japan Claims Settlement signed in 1965, which stipulates that the issues concerning property, rights and interests of the individual and legal entities of both countries as well as the issue of claims were completely and finally resolved. Thanks to the latest ruling, the South Korean government was able to avoid a diplomatic disaster.

"She's Lonelier, the Girl" The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan organized the 1,210th regular Wednesday rally seeking the resolution of the comfort women issue in the Japanese military with citizen participants in front of the Japanese Embassy in Junghak-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul on December 23. Yi Jun-heon

The government stressed that the decision was made by the Constitutional Court and appeared calm, yet at the same time relief was evident in their response. When reporters asked the government's position on the Constitutional Court's decision, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs answered simply, "From what we know, the decision to dismiss the case was based on the legal principles of adjective laws of the constitutional suit, and there was nothing special to mention."

The latest decision was expected to some extent, but the government remained tense until the decision was announced, because of the tremendous ripples in foreign relations that could rise if the court happened to decide that the claims settlement was unconstitutional. At a debate organized by the Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club this morning, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said, "We expect a wise decision (by the Constitutional Court)." After all, the claims settlement, which makes up an axis in South Korea-Japan relations, could virtually collapse depending on the decision. In this case, the government would be obligated to take measures, such as demand Japan for a renegotiation to resolve the contradiction--a treaty with another country that does not go in line with our Constitution.

In particular, the claims settlement is a follow-up measure to the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed after the Pacific War, so if the court had deemed the agreement unconstitutional, it could be interpreted as a denial of the world order led by the U.S. which had been maintained for fifty years after the war. This is why some experts suggested that a decision by the court could lead to a drop in our country's credibility in the international community and to diplomatic bankruptcy ahead of the decision.

But the latest decision does not completely resolve the issue. In 2012, the Supreme Court overturned the first and second rulings and judged that it was difficult to say that the right to request compensation by the victims who were forcibly drafted by Japan had perished with the claims settlement. The South Korean government currently acknowledges that the issue of forced labor and draft under Japanese occupation was resolved with the claims settlement, so the judiciary judgment does not go in line with the government's position. This case is currently pending in another appellate trial in the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court makes its final decision, judicial proceedings would take place, such as the seizing of property owned by Japanese companies in Korea. So a time bomb that may drive South Korea-Japan relations to a catastrophe still remains.

A government official said, "It is true that the latest decision by the Constitutional Court is another favorable element in improving South Korea-Japan relations, but this does not mean that the fundamental problem has been solved. The issue of the claims settlement will surface again."

■Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and the Economic Cooperation between the Republic of Korea and Japan (South Korea-Japan Claims Settlement)

This is an agreement attached to the Treaty on Basic Relations between South Korea and Japan signed in 1965. It states that Japan should provide the Republic of Korea with US$300 million, free of charge, and US$200 million on long-term and low-interest loan over the course of ten years. It also states that the problems concerning property, rights, and interests of the two countries and their peoples, including the claims between the two countries and their peoples have been settled completely and finally. By including both claims and economic cooperation, the agreement allowed the two countries room to interpret the funds Japan provided South Korea according to their interests.

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