SEOUL — South Korea said Tuesday it will not seek to renegotiate the two-year-old deal with Japan on “comfort women” forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, saying it is an official agreement between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said, however, that the South Korean government plans to match the 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) provided by the Japanese government under the deal with its own contribution, and discuss what to do with the Japanese contribution.
Seoul’s new policy on the deal came after President Moon Jae In said the agreement, struck to “finally and irreversibly” settle the controversial issue, cannot resolve it because negotiations that led to the deal were flawed.
The dispute over “comfort women” — a euphemism used to refer to women mostly from Asian countries who worked in brothels built to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II — has been one of the major issues that have strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul for years.
Under the deal announced by the foreign ministers of the two countries in December 2015, Japan put 1 billion yen into a South Korean foundation to support Korean victims, while South Korea agreed to “make efforts” to remove a statue symbolizing comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
But some of the victims have called for South Korea to return the money to Japan, prompting the South Korean government’s announcement that it will contribute the same amount of money, while planning to discuss with Tokyo what to do with the Japanese contribution already made.
Of the 47 former comfort women who were still alive when the agreement was reached, 36 of them or their bereaved families have received or indicated their intent to receive the funds.
Regarding the plan not to seek a renegotiation of the deal, the foreign minister said “there is no denying the fact” that the agreement was an official one between the two governments.
Japan has called on South Korea to hold up its end of the deal, with Foreign Minister Taro Kono warning that bilateral relations will become “unmanageable” if South Korea seeks to review it.
The Japan-South Korea deal, struck under the previous government of President Park Geun Hye, has proven controversial among the victims and the South Korean public who felt the victims’ voices were ignored, and that Japan’s fresh apology over the issue was inadequate.
The Moon government, inaugurated in May, launched a task force under the foreign minister in July to review the process that led to the deal, arguing that the majority of the South Korean public do not approve of it.
On Dec. 27, the task force said in a report that the Park government failed to sufficiently consult with former comfort women before agreeing to the deal with Japan.