Photo/IllutrationSouth Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang talks about preparations for submitting a bill within December to solve the wartime laborers issue. The picture was taken in Seoul on Oct. 30. (Hajimu Takeda)

South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang announced on Dec. 5 that he will submit a bill in mid-December to establish a new foundation to address the contentious wartime laborers issue.

The bill’s central pillar is the solicitation of public and corporate funds from both nations to provide compensation to plaintiffs who won cases at the South Korean Supreme Court last year.

The rulings called for Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean plaintiffs for their forced labor during World War II.

An official of the speaker's office said that if the bill's measures are realized, it would be possible to avoid having Japanese companies in South Korea give up assets as demanded by the plaintiffs, and that a further strain on relations between the two countries could be avoided.

The bill also states that plaintiffs involved in ongoing cases and former wartime laborers and relatives scheduled to file suits would also be eligible for compensation through the proposed foundation.

Initially, the bill stipulated that the foundation make use of the remaining 6 billion won (about 560 million yen, or $5.2 million) from the dissolved Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, designed to support former "comfort women," who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.

However, it was removed after opposition from organizations that demanded the scrapping of the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement on comfort women.

The bill is a form of compromise with the Japanese government's insistence that Japanese companies not be forced to carry a financial burden. It also characterized funding from such firms as "voluntary donations."

The bill also states that the South Korean government shoulder part of the costs of operating the foundation, and asked for understanding from the public who oppose such use of their taxes: "We can't deny the South Korean government's responsibility as well concerning historical events in which our country was colonized and citizens suffered as a result."

According to data released Dec. 2 by South Korean polling organization Realmeter, 32.6 percent of South Koreans agreed with the speaker's bill, while 44.4 percent opposed it.

At the same time, an official at the speaker's office said that Japan showing sincere remorse and other factors are the key to resolving the issue, and that it expects Japan to reaffirm a Japan-South Korea partnership declaration in 1998, in which then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi apologized for his nation's colonial rule.

In contrast, a Japanese Foreign Ministry executive said, "Japan is unable to accept the bill if the condition is that Japanese companies provide the funding."

However, a prime minister's office executive indicated that an arrangement is possible, saying, "Japan may act on the idea if the primary responsibility for compensation does not lie with the Japanese government or Japanese firms."

(This article was written by Hajimu Takeda in Seoul and Narumi Ota in Tokyo.)