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Editorial: S. Korean foundation a vital bridge to solve ‘comfort women’ issue

An outline of projects to be carried out by the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation in South Korea to extend relief to former wartime “comfort women” has been worked out. It is hoped that the projects will help heal the emotional scars suffered by about 40 survivors.

 

Under the plan, the foundation will provide some 100 million won, or approximately 9 million yen, each to 46 former comfort women who were alive as of the end of last year when Japan and South Korea reached a reconciliation on the issue, and 20 million won, or about 1.8 million yen, each to the bereaved families of 199 former comfort women who had passed away by that time. The projects, aimed at restoring the honor and dignity of former comfort woman and help heal their emotional scars, include a joint memorial service for the victims.

 

The 1 billion yen that Japan will contribute to the foundation will be used to finance the projects. The exact amount of money to be paid to individual former comfort women will depend on the medical and nursing care services they need to receive. Foundation officials will interview all survivors and bereaved families before determining the exact amount of money the organization will provide to them.

 

Japan declared that it “is painfully aware of its responsibilities” for the comfort women issue when Tokyo and Seoul signed the bilateral accord late last year. Japan has taken the position that the two countries settled any dispute over wartime compensation under the 1965 Agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation. Therefore, Japan, which had previously only admitted its moral responsibility, took a step further.

 

South Korea also dropped its mention of Japan’s “legal responsibility” for the comfort women issue, even though the country had stuck to the phrase due to its position that the issue has not been settled under the 1965 bilateral agreement. The December 2015 accord would not have been reached if both sides had refused to compromise.

 

The Japanese government provided funds to former comfort women in the 1990s to help them cover their medical and welfare services through the Asian Women’s Fund.

 

Under the project, 5 million yen was paid each to former comfort women who accepted the fund’s projects. Of the amount, 2 million yen came from donations from Japanese citizens while the remainder was footed by the Japanese government.

 

The Japanese government spent a total of some 750 million yen to carry out projects to support former comfort women in South Korea, Taiwan, the Netherlands and the Philippines. The government regards the projects as those aimed at fulfilling Japan’s moral responsibility for the comfort women issue but denied that victims in these countries have the right to demand compensation from Tokyo. Japan’s plan to provide funds to former comfort women through the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation apparently follows this position.

 

Since the 2015 agreement on the comfort women issue, bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea have been gradually improving. It is of great significance for the two countries to strengthen their cooperation as North Korea is pressing forward with its nuclear and missile development programs. The two countries must bolster their moves toward reconciliation.

The South Korean government has promised to try to make sure that problems involving a statue of a girl, which represents comfort women, in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul will be resolved in an appropriate manner. Still, South Korean public opinion is against removing the statue. The two countries should try to gain public understanding of the issue by facilitating projects by the foundation.

 

When the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved Japan’s contribution of 1 billion yen to the foundation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “Once the disbursement of the fund is completed, Japan will have fulfilled its responsibility.”

 

However, it would be wrong if the government were to believe that all Japan has to do is to provide cash to the foundation. Japan must see how South Korea’s efforts to heal the emotional scars of former comfort women will produce positive results.

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