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Editorial: Tokyo, Seoul must focus on goals of comfort women pact

  • January 10, 2018
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , p. 16
  • English Press

The Moon Jae-in administration’s announcement on Jan. 9 of its official position on a landmark agreement between the South Korean and Japanese governments regarding “comfort women” left us wondering.


The announcement failed to convey how the South Korean government intends to act in the days ahead.


Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha stated in no uncertain terms that South Korea will not seek to renegotiate the agreement, which was concluded in December 2015. This was wise of the South Korean government, as it forms the foundation of a future-oriented relationship between Japan and South Korea.


But on the other hand, Kang indicated South Korea’s policy to make changes to the most crucial part of the agreement, which concerns providing aid to former comfort women.


Kang said South Korea will provide 1 billion yen ($8.86 million) to match the amount the Japanese government provided to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, which was established in Seoul to implement aid programs for the women.


Regarding the use of Japan’s contribution, Kang said South Korea will “negotiate with Tokyo.” As for the management of the foundation, she noted South Korea will decide after heeding the wishes of former comfort women and their support groups.


This will likely put the bilateral agreement in danger of deviating from its original purpose, which, as we understand it, was for both the Japanese and South Korean governments to explore how best to heal the emotional scars of the women.


The latest policy is not consistent with past developments.


In the 1990s, Japan started paying compensation to the women through the Asian Women’s Fund, established jointly by the public and private sectors. But because the bulk of the funding came from private donations, there was criticism in South Korea that it represented an evasion of responsibility by the Japanese government.


This was acknowledged under the 2015 agreement, and Japan provided the 1 billion yen entirely from the government’s budget.


If South Korea refuses to use the Japanese government funding for running the foundation’s aid programs, the entire situation changes.


Last month, a South Korean research team answering to Kang issued a report to the effect that procedural flaws existed in the negotiations of the agreement.


President Moon later noted that “problems cannot be solved” under this agreement.


Will South Korea’s official policy announced on Jan. 9 solve the problems? We think it highly questionable. In fact, we fear the problems could worsen.


The most important thing to bear in mind is to ensure the continuation of thoughtful and well-administered aid programs for former comfort women, for which Tokyo and Seoul must cooperate even more closely.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said, “We do not intend to budge one millimeter (to change the agreement),” but it is unconstructive of Japan to react rigidly.


Through the Asian Women’s Fund, generations of Japanese prime ministers sent letters of apology to former comfort women.


Japan should consider all positive options for maintaining the agreement, without being told by South Korea what to do.


With less than a month to go before the opening of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, a meeting of South Korean and North Korean representatives was realized at Panmunjom on Jan. 9.


The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains as volatile as ever.


Neither Tokyo nor Seoul has any time to waste by slackening their efforts to build a bilateral relationship that is based on a genuine commitment to human rights issues stemming from the past and willingness to work together on pressing issues.


–The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10

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