TOKYO (Reuters) – When Yohei Kono made a landmark 1993 apology to “consolation girls”, lots of them Koreans, pressured to work in wartime army brothels, Japan’s then chief cupboard secretary spoke for a average conservative mainstream in search of to reconcile with Asian neighbors.
1 / 4 century later, Kono’s son, Taro, now overseas minister, is on the entrance traces of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s escalating feud over compensation for South Koreans pressured to work in wartime Japanese mines and factories, an unresolved legacy of the 2 international locations’ bitter previous.
The distinction between father and son displays a change in Japan’s ruling occasion symbolized by Abe’s personal rise to energy.
“There was a generational shift,” mentioned Andrew Horvat, a visiting professor at Josai Worldwide College.
“Those that noticed Korean conscript laborers of their emaciated situation pressured to work in Japanese mines and firms have died or are very, very previous,” he mentioned.
“The failure to achieve consensus on a troublesome previous … has resulted in a scarcity of tolerance in a brand new technology that sees issues in a much less nuanced method, devoid of actual expertise.”
Ties between the 2 international locations have seen good and unhealthy occasions, however by no means escaped the bitter legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula and wartime abuses.
Relations soured final October after South Korea’s Supreme Courtroom ordered Japanese corporations to compensate Korean wartime employees, a transfer strongly condemned by Tokyo.
They bought worse when Japan tightened export controls on supplies very important for South Korean chipmakers after which dropped Seoul from a listing of nations eligible for fast-track exports, steps angrily denounced by South Korea.
These strikes, which Japan mentioned weren’t retaliation over the historical past row, threaten to disrupt international provide chains and undermine safety cooperation within the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile menace, analysts say.
‘MATTER OF TRUST’
Japan’s authorities says the South Korean courtroom rulings broke a 1965 treaty normalizing ties and an accompanying settlement that settled compensation “utterly and at last”.
Japanese critics additionally accuse Seoul of transferring the purpose posts with its calls for for historic accountability. They level, for instance, to President Moon Jae-in’s determination to dissolve a fund for “consolation girls” arrange underneath an settlement in 2015 by Abe and Moon’s predecessor.
“The largest downside is a matter of belief, and whether or not guarantees made between nations are stored,” Abe mentioned this week.
Abe, 64, was first elected to parliament in 1993, the identical 12 months because the Kono assertion.
Two years later, then-premier Tomiichi Murayama, a socialist who led a coalition with the conservative Liberal Democratic Occasion, made a “heartfelt apology” for struggling attributable to Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression”.
The acts of contrition sparked a backlash within the LDP amongst a youthful technology together with Abe, who felt their elders had been promoting out and adopting a “masochist” view of historical past.
“On a broad trajectory, the Murayama assertion was the excessive level of Japanese warfare accountability and there was a response towards that,” mentioned William Underwood, an unbiased researcher who has accomplished in depth work on the pressured labor problem.
Abe, elected prime minister in 2006 as the primary premier born after World Conflict Two, give up abruptly after one troubled 12 months.
He made a uncommon comeback in 2012, supported by a corps of conservatives sharing his dedication to satisfaction in Japan’s tradition and historical past and a much less apologetic view of the warfare.
Electoral system modifications and three years in opposition helped ultra-conservative lawmakers and foyer teams strengthen their clout within the LDP.
“It’s just like the NRA (Nationwide Rifle Affiliation) in the US. A really small group … can leverage the democratic system in a path the bulk don’t want to go,” Horvat mentioned.
Stress contained in the LDP for a tricky stance is robust.
In June, Defence Minister Takeshi Iwaya got here underneath hearth from occasion colleagues for smiling earlier than cameras at a gathering along with his South Korean counterpart.
Japanese MPs favoring good ties with Seoul met South Korean counterparts in Tokyo final week, however made little progress in easing the battle.
Abe’s authorities has launched into an aggressive public relations marketing campaign.
Commerce minister Hiroshige Seko took to Twitter to chastise public broadcaster NHK for utilizing the time period “export restraints” for strikes towards gross sales to Seoul. He mentioned the correct time period was the extra impartial “export management” or “export administration”.
NHK declined to touch upon Seko’s tweet, however advised Reuters in a press release that it made unbiased selections and always revised phrases to be extra applicable and simpler to grasp.
In reporting on the subject on Thursday, NHK used the extra impartial expression.
Diplomats have reached out to home and overseas media with detailed briefings and handouts on the dispute.”I believe there may be very sturdy strain, particularly towards main media reminiscent of NHK,” mentioned Kozo Nagata, a former NHK producer and professor of media research at Musashi College.
COSTS VS BENEFITS
Opinion polls present Japanese are principally supportive of the federal government’s powerful stance.
A survey by the conservative Sankei newspaper and Fuji Information Community launched on Monday confirmed two-thirds of respondents backed eradicating South Korea from the fast-track export listing, however almost 60% additionally apprehensive about future ties.
“There may be ‘Korea fatigue’,” Underwood mentioned, however he added most people was not as harsh as many within the ruling occasion.
“As for the youthful technology, they haven’t any data base, however they’ve a way the Koreans are intractable,” he mentioned.
With Japan and South Korea digging of their heels for now, the prospects for ending the feud seem slim till it begins to harm their economies or safety cooperation, specialists mentioned.
“The truth of historic redress settlements is that it boils right down to a cost-benefit matrix,” Underwood mentioned.
“It is just when the prices of perpetual intransigence are perceived as larger than the prices of settlement that anybody strikes,” he added.
Reporting by Linda Sieg; enhancing by Darren Schuettler