On July 25 in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se confirmed their intention to implement an agreement on the comfort women issue, which was reached last December. Although the agreed establishment of a foundation to help the former comfort women is drawing closer, there still remains concern about whether the foundation will promote projects. After the meeting, the governments of the two countries avoided describing in detail issues that will undermine the implementation of the deal.
The Japanese government has demanded the removal of the statue of a young girl (symbolizing comfort women) in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. In the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), many lawmakers insist that the government should be cautious about providing South Korea with 1 billion yen as operating money for the foundation if it doesn’t obtain the assurance from the South Korean government.
According to the South Korean government, it explained to the Japanese side in the meeting on July 25 the present state of preparations for establishing the foundation. Without mentioning the 1 billion yen, a South Korean government official just said, “We are confident that [funds] will be swiftly provided.” The official said there was no discussion on the statue of a young girl in the meeting.
According to several sources related to bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea, the South Korean side has informally conveyed that “if Japan refers” to the statue issue before the establishment of the foundation, South Korean people will strongly react and the agreement will be destroyed eventually.
In Japan, there is also the view that expresses understanding for such circumstances in South Korea. A high-level government official said, “The removal of the statue of a young girl and the pledged 1 billion yen should not be linked.” However, many in the LDP think that close attention should be paid to the public and the LDP.
There is another concern that if the South Korean side provides former comfort women with cash from the 1 billion yen, the cash could be taken to mean de facto “compensation”. The Japanese government has taken the position that the issue of individual compensation was “legally resolved” by a bilateral agreement, which was concluded along with the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea. A senior Foreign Ministry official said, “Since the two governments are for implementing foundation operation, the timing for providing the 1 billion yen has not yet been decided.”
Although nearly half of the former comfort women have agreed to the purpose of the foundation, some have still reacted negatively. Under such circumstances, there is no prospect for the Japanese side to provide the 1 billion yen to South Korea. (Slightly abridged)