Japan, S. Korea strike landmark deal on ‘comfort women’

SEOUL — Japan and South Korea on Dec. 28 struck a landmark deal to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the protracted dispute over Korean women who were procured for Japan’s wartime military brothels.

As part of the deal, Japan will contribute 1 billion yen ($8.4 million) from its state budget in a foundation South Korea will establish to provide support for former so-called “comfort women,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a joint news conference with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se after their meeting in Seoul.

“Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as ‘comfort women,’” Kishida said. The Japanese government recognizes its responsibility over the issue, which, under the involvement of the Japanese military during and before World War II, was a “grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women,” he said.

Yun said, “We were able to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both countries.”

“The issue is resolved finally and irreversibly with this announcement,” provided that Japan will steadily implement the agreement, he said.

It was not immediately known whether the deal would be accepted by the people of the two countries including 46 surviving victims in South Korea. But the deal is expected to clear what South Korean President Park Geun Hye has described as “the biggest obstacle to efforts to improve bilateral relations” in the final days of 2015, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.

Speaking over the phone after the meeting, Abe and Park hailed the agreement. Abe proposed that the two leaders take the lead in implementing the agreement and that the two countries deal with various issue with this accord’s spirit, according to a senior Japanese official.

Park was quoted by the official as saying South Korea would like to “make this agreement an historic opportunity to develop Seoul-Tokyo relations in a stable fashion.” She added she would like to make bilateral ties “more future-oriented” from next year. The meeting came as the United States has stepped up calls on Japan and South Korea, its key Asian allies, to mend ties in the face of an increasingly assertive China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

“The agreement lays the groundwork for advancing security cooperation involving Japan, the United States and South Korea,” Kishida told reporters. “It will contribute to peace and stability of this region.”

Yun said Seoul will refrain from accusing or criticizing Japan regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations, on the premise that Tokyo will steadily implement the measures it announced.

Given such a stance, Kishida said he believes South Korea will halt efforts to add materials related to “comfort women” to the Memory of the World list of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Yun also said South Korea “acknowledges” Japan’s concern about a statue of a girl symbolizing the victims located in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and that it will “make efforts” toward removing it. Kishida said he thinks it “will be relocated appropriately.”

Speaking to reporters separately, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official quoted South Korean officials as saying that the South Korean government “will not assist” any movements in the United States and other third countries to erect statues and monuments related to “comfort women.”

The Japanese official said the two governments will continue talks and work out details about the envisaged aid to former “comfort women” such as when South Korea will launch the foundation and what kind of assistance to be provided to such women whose average age is nearly 90.

Kishida dismissed the view that using state budget for such a purpose would mean that Japan will offer reparations for South Korea.

He said the issue of compensation was resolved under the 1965 Japan-South Korea basic treaty and an attached agreement, which says the issue of property and claim rights between the two countries “is settled completely and finally.”

Kishida said Japan’s contribution will be used for “projects for recovering the honor and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former ‘comfort women’” that will be carried out under the cooperation between the two governments.

“If projects for recovering the honor and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of ‘comfort women’ victims were carried out, there would be no way that this (the ‘comfort women’) issue will be discussed again,” Park was quoted as telling Abe over the phone.

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