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Involvement of leaders’ close aides crucial to “comfort women” deal

  • 2015-12-31 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: December 31, 2015 – p. 2)


 By Tetsuya Hakoda, senior writer


 Behind-the-scenes talks reflecting the wishes of the leaders of Japan and the ROK played a crucial role in the Japan-ROK negotiations that led to the agreement on the comfort women issue on Dec. 28.


 Bureau chief level talks between (then) Director General Junichi Ihara of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and Director General for Northeast Asian Affairs Lee Sang-deok of the ROK Foreign Ministry started in April 2014. However, no substantial progress was made, with the two sides merely reiterating their longstanding positions, such as on the interpretation of the 1965 bilateral agreement on claims.


 From the beginning, the Japanese government had thought that it would be difficult to finalize the details through bureau chief level negotiations. Unlike in Japan, where the Foreign Ministry’s bureau chiefs are able to report to the Prime Minister in person, in the ROK, diplomats can only report Japan’s intent to President Park Geun-hye through Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, an anti-Japan hardliner.


 At the request of the Japanese side, a channel of communication that directly reflected the two leaders’ wishes started functioning in early 2015. The Japanese team was led by National Security Secretariat Director General Shotaro Yachi, and his counterpart was ROK presidential chief of staff Lee Byung-ki.


 Eventually, both the Japanese and ROK sides came to call this the “Yachi Project.” However, the negotiators were wary of the behind-the-scenes talks being made public, so there were times they met at the Gimpo Airport in Seoul.


 On Dec. 23, the ROK constitutional court dismissed a lawsuit claiming the bilateral agreement on claims for wartime compensation was unconstitutional. The negotiating teams immediately started a new round of talks that afternoon which lasted until midnight. Most of the terms of the agreement on the comfort women issue were decided.


 After receiving a report from Yachi on Dec. 24, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to visit the ROK on Dec. 28 early that evening.

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