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Editorials in Japan’s main papers split over interpretation of agreement on “comfort women”

  • 2016-01-13 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: January 13, 2016 – p. 6)


 On Dec. 28 last year just as the year was drawing to a close, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se met for talks in Seoul and reached an agreement that they described as a “final and irreversible resolution” to the issue of comfort women.


 The two nations promised to refrain from blaming and criticizing each other over this issue in the international arena and agreed that the Japanese government would give about 1 billion yen to a fund to help former comfort women. About the removal of a statue symbolizing comfort women which sits in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Foreign Minister Yun said that the South Korean government “would endeavor to have the matter resolved appropriately.”


 The editorials in Japan’s main newspapers expressed widely divergent views on the “agreement.” While the Asahi Shimbun, the Mainichi Shimbun, the Nikkei, and the Tokyo Shimbun gave a positive assessment of the agreement, the Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun expressed some skepticism.


 Both the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun “welcomed” the agreement: The Asahi Shimbun wrote, “We welcome the weighty decision by the two governments to move beyond their long-standing feud and take a wise step forward to overcome the negative legacies of their history.” The Mainichi Shimbun stated, “We welcome the agreement, which has come 70 years after the end of World War II and 50 years since diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea were normalized.”


 The Nikkei said, “Japan and South Korea should use this momentum to breathe new life into their ties.” The Tokyo Shimbun was also forward-looking about the agreement, saying that “the biggest issue between the two countries is moving toward resolution.”


 In contrast, the Sankei Shimbun cautioned that “the agreement leaves the impression that it is an ambiguous settlement for which Japan made concessions. This may give rise to further problems down the road.” The apology offered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe through Foreign Minister Kishida made particular reference to “military involvement” in the comfort women issue, and the Sankei Shimbun criticized this, saying that “the Kono statement, which had acknowledged the use of force in recruiting comfort women, has since been rendered void. There is no reason for this misleading ‘military involvement’ expression to be used.”


 This is directly opposite to the view of the Asahi Shimbun, which said, “It is quite significant that Abe, albeit through Kishida, expressed his commitment to the core message of the key statement.” It is also contrary to the Nikkei which said that the Abe government’s review of the Kono statement “caused mutual distrust to deepen further.”


 The four newspapers (Asahi, Mainichi, Nikkei, Tokyo Shimbun) encouraged the two countries to make efforts to fulfill the agreement: The Asahi Shimbun said, “The top diplomats of both countries made these pledges in front of media. They should ensure that the agreement will be faithfully carried out.” The Mainichi Shimbun stated, “Both countries must be ready to practice mutual trust and cooperation.”


 In contrast, the Sankei Shimbun said, “South Korea has agreed several times on the settlement of the comfort women issue in response to Japan’s apologies. However, it has brought up the issue repeatedly after each change of administration.” The enhancement of the Japan-South Korea relationship is premised on “the comfort women issue never being raised again, as Japan and the ROK agreed.”


 The Yomiuri Shimbun similarly said that it will be critical that “South Korea not dredge up this issue again in the future,” recalling that past South Korean presidents clearly stated they would never bring up matters of the past but then “were swayed by domestic public opinion and reversed their position completely.”


 The Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun also agree that this should start with the removal of the statue.


 The editorials in Japan’s main newspapers have varying views on Japan’s contribution of about 1 million yen [to a fund to support former comfort women]. The issue of compensation was settled under the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Japan established the Asian Women’s Fund in 1995 primarily from donations from members of the Japanese public, but it was not accepted by the South Korean side.


 The Sankei Shimbun and the Yomiuri Shimbun mentioned this historical fact and expressed doubt [about the new contribution]: The Sankei Shimbun said, “It is questionable whether (Japan’s contribution) can earn the understanding of the people of Japan.” The Yomiuri Shimbun said, “We wonder if the government’s financial contribution to the foundation will be misunderstood in South Korea as de facto state compensation.” The Mainichi Shimbun, however, supported the contribution, saying “Pumping public funds into the foundation this time around makes the Japanese government’s responsibility toward comfort women more explicit.”


 The Sankei Shimbun closed its editorial saying, “It will take more time before the agreement can be properly assessed.” The inconsistencies in the agreement, however, have been exposed surprisingly quickly.


 At the start of the year on Jan. 4 when the shock of the “agreement” still lingered, the South Korean media reported that the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs objected strongly to a statement by Foreign Minister Kishida in which he expressed once again his understanding that the statue symbolizing comfort women would be relocated appropriately. The South Korean authorities apparently said, “Since the statue was erected by a civic group, the government can’t just tell them what to do or not to do."


 On the next day, Jan. 5, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that the nation would go forward with the publication of the “White Paper on Comfort Women,” a compilation of testimonies and materials on comfort women.


 We cannot help muttering under our breath, “Just what we suspected . . .”


 Editorials on the “comfort women issue”


· Sankei Shimbun: Is the comfort women agreement really a final settlement? [See Dec. 29, 2015 Japan Press Highlights for translation]


· Asahi Shimbun:


‘Comfort women’ deal should lead to new era of Tokyo-Seoul relations


· Mainichi Shimbun:


‘Comfort women’ agreement between Japan, South Korea start of new era


· Yomiuri Shimbun:


ROK must honor ‘irreversible’ deal on ‘comfort women’ issue / Removal of statue also a crucial touchstone


· The Nikkei: Translate ‘Comfort women’ settlement into renewed ties between Japan, S. Korea [See Dec. 30, 2015 Japan Press Highlights for translation]


· Tokyo Shimbun: Learning the importance of “compromise”


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