[BREAKING] South Korea and Japan Reach Deal Over Comfort Women – Find Out Details
David Lee, Dec. 28, 2015, 8:26 a.m.
South Korea and Japan reached a landmark deal on Monday to resolve the issue of Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, announced the agreement after talks at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, which centered on Japan's admission of responsibility for the wartime crime and plans to pay reparations to the victims, euphemistically known as "comfort women."
"The comfort women issue is an issue whereby many women under the then military's involvement bore deep scars to their honor and dignity, and from this perspective, the Japanese government acutely feels responsible," Kishida said in a joint press conference with Yun at the ministry. "Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe, as prime minister of Japan, once again expresses an apology and repentance from the heart to all those who as comfort women experienced much pain and bore scars that are difficult to heal on their bodies and souls."
It marked the first time the conservative Japanese leader has offered an apology in his own words without citing those of past administrations. T he meeting between Yun and Kishida was watched closely as the two countries have recently intensified efforts to resolve the longstanding dispute. The neighboring nations' ties have often been strained by rows over their shared history.
In the deal, Japan agreed to offer 1 billion yen (US$8.3 million) in reparations to the victims through a fund to be created by the South Korean government. South Korea vowed to end the dispute once and for all if Japan fulfills its responsibilities. It also agreed to work on addressing Tokyo's demands that the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women be removed from outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
The deal came less than two months after President Park Geun-hye and Abe agreed to speed up negotiations on the issue in their first summit on Nov. 2. Park had called for a resolution by the end of this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations.
Seoul and Tokyo were also under pressure from Washington to improve their ties. The U.S. has sought to strengthen trilateral cooperation with its two East Asian allies in the face of China's growing assertiveness in the region. Historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during the war. Korea was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910-45.
South Korea demanded Japan offer a formal apology and proper compensation to the victims before they all die. Earlier this month, a former South Korean comfort woman died at age 96, reducing the number of surviving victims in the country to 46. Japan claimed it fulfilled its legal responsibility in a package deal under the normalization treaty of 1965, but South Korea insisted the comfort women issue should be handled separately as it constitutes a crime against humanity.
Critics argued Monday's agreement still failed to clarify Japan's legal responsibility for the crime. "It's important that Japan accepts legal responsibility, determines the truth and punishes those responsible, but that appears impossible through the outcome of today's talks," said Lee Na-young, a sociology professor at Seoul's Chung-ang University. Some of the surviving victims strongly protested the deal.
"What we have been demanding is legal compensation from Japan," said 88-year-old Lee Yong-soo. "We are not doing this because we do not have money." Ahn Shin-kwon, the head of the House of Sharing, a shelter for the victims in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, also denounced the agreement as a political collusion between the two countries.
A Foreign Ministry official acknowledged the agreement may not satisfy everyone, but stressed that the comfort women issue had been the biggest dilemma in the two countries' diplomatic relations. "We assess that there was huge progress on the three key elements of Japan accepting responsibility, issuing an apology and taking responsible measures," the official told reporters on background. Seoul and Tokyo held 12 rounds of working-level talks starting in April last year in an effort to resolve the comfort women issue.