WASHINGTON: US top diplomat Antony Blinken on Sunday applauded plans announced by South Korea to compensate victims of Japan’s forced wartime labour, as Seoul looks to forge closer ties with Tokyo.
South Korea and Japan are “two of the United States’ most important allies, and we are inspired by the work they have done to advance their bilateral relations,” the Secretary of State said in a statement.
The trilateral relationship is “central to our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” he added.
“We applaud [Seoul and Tokyo] for their courage and vision, and call on the international community to join our commendation of this momentous achievement.”
The decision by Seoul comes as South Korea and Japan have ramped up security cooperation in the face of growing threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.
But bilateral ties have long been strained over Tokyo’s brutal 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.
Around 780,000 Koreans were conscripted into forced labour by Japan during the 35-year occupation, according to data from Seoul, not including women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops.
Seoul’s plan is to take money from major South Korean companies that benefited from a 1965 reparations deal with Tokyo and use it to compensate victims, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Park Jin said.
Victims have criticised the proposal because it falls far short of their demand for a full apology from Tokyo and direct compensation from the Japanese companies involved.