South Korean President Moon Jae-in has announced his administration’s policy on the 2015 Tokyo-Seoul agreement on the comfort women issue. Consideration toward activist groups critical of the accord is particularly noticeable in the policy, and this is something that we cannot easily accept.
The aim of the bilateral agreement, surely, was to improve the situation surrounding former comfort women as much as possible. But that initial objective has been lost under the Moon administration’s current stance.
While the South Korean government will not demand renegotiation with Tokyo, Moon said he expects Japan to voluntarily apologize to former comfort women. Regarding the 1 billion yen contributed by the Japanese government from its budget, which went to a foundation set up under the accord, Seoul said it will prepare its own fund, matching the amount.
During his New Year’s news conference on Jan. 10, Moon called the 2015 deal an “erroneous knot” that must be untied. He also said the money paid to former comfort women via the foundation will gradually be replaced by the fund prepared by the South Korean government.
This is likely the result of the Moon administration taking into consideration calls made by support groups of former comfort women to return the money to Japan. But Japan’s contribution represented its move to clarify its responsibility as a state over the issue. Refusing to acknowledge this would hurt the foundations of the agreement.
It was South Korea that had demanded Japan make contributions from its state budget in the first place. Tokyo had refused to comply in the past, to defend its position that the comfort women issue had already been settled legally, and the monetary compensation distributed to former comfort women via the Asian Women’s Fund, which was founded in the 1990s by the Japanese government, was covered by donations. Yet this fund was met with a strong backlash in South Korea as the contributions were not made by the Japanese government, and it was ultimately unsuccessful.
Japan accordingly decided to contribute money from its state budget under the 2015 bilateral accord. At the same time, South Korea agreed to exclude the term “state redress” from the deal. It was the two nations working together to reach a compromise to support as many former comfort women as possible while they are alive.
No diplomatic negotiations allow one party alone to leave with everything it demands. It is an accepted norm of the international community to keep the promises made between countries even after a government changes hands.
Nevertheless, Japan is still responsible as a state over the comfort women issue. Tokyo cannot simply denounce the lack of common sense displayed by the Moon administration, but is expected to adopt an attitude showing that it is facing its responsibility sincerely. It is also expected to demonstrate morals as a state.
Considering the severe security environment surrounding East Asia, tainting the Japan-South Korea relationship would go against the interests of both parties. It is essential for the two neighboring nations to advance cooperation in security and other fields without refueling emotional conflict over the comfort women issue.