Envoy: 'Comfort women' deal not accepted by Koreans

Mia Lee, May 17, 2017, 9:35 a.m.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in's special envoy told Japan's top diplomat Wednesday many Koreans still disapprove of the contentious bilateral deal on the historical issue of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women. Moon Hee-sang, a five-term lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party, raised the sensitive topic in a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida here for about 40 minutes. The politician is on a visit to Tokyo as the special envoy of South Korea's new president, Moon Jae-in, as the neighboring countries struggle to improve their relations.

"The mood of the majority of South Korean people is that they can't accept the comfort women agreement emotionally," the lawmaker was quoted as telling Kishida.

He was referring to a 2015 accord signed by the previous South Korean administration of Park Geun-hye, who was later impeached for a bribery scandal.

Japan provided a government fund to support dozens of the remaining South Korean victims, who were forced to serve in front-line brothels for imperial Japanese troops during World War II, under the deal aimed at ending a long-running diplomatic feud between the two sides.

The deal has been largely unpopular in South Korea, although the Park government argued it was essential to moving forward Seoul's ties with Tokyo.

President Moon conveyed the public sentiment to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in their phone conversation last week.

His envoy's remarks in the meeting with the minister affirm the Moon administration's negative view on the agreement and hint at a full-scale campaign to scrap or revise it.

The envoy also called for joint efforts to resolve the problem with wisdom.

He reminded the minister of Japan's past acknowledgment of the wartime atrocities, especially in the so-called 1993 Kono Statement and 1995 Murayama Statement.

Japan has formally demanded Seoul abide by the latest agreement, but the envoy told reporters that Kishida did not reiterate the position in their talks.

The envoy said the meeting was "useful" and held in a "serious" but friendly mood in general.

He told the minister, "The values that South Korea and Japan pursue are identical."

   "The leaders of the two nations should meet each other at an early date, and frequently, to talk about the North Korea issue," he added.

In response, Kishida was quoted as saying, "South Korea and Japan are neighbors who share strategic interests, and Japan plans to pursue forward-looking relations with the new South Korean administration."

   They also agreed that Seoul and Tokyo need to cooperate in dealing with the North Korea issue.

Asked if there was any discussion on another controversial issue of whether to maintain the agreement on sharing military information, Moon said no.

The two sides signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in November last year despite a protest from Moon's then-opposition party.

It's to expire on Nov. 23 this year.

The envoy said it's a call by the new South Korean government to extend the agreement or terminate it.

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