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News > World

Japan-South Korea Wartime 'Comfort Women' Deal Under Threat

  • Japan previously apologized to the surviving 'comfort women' and provided $8.8m to a welfare fund.

    Japan previously apologized to the surviving 'comfort women' and provided $8.8m to a welfare fund. | Photo: Reuters FILE

Published 28 December 2017

“Comfort women” referred to tens of thousands of women and girls who were coerced into working in Japanese military brothels at wartime.

On Wednesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said to revise the 2015 Japan-South Korea “comfort women” agreement would be unacceptable and make relations between the two countries unmanageable.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the agreement regarding Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves unworkable. Moon explained, on Thursday, that the agreement was “seriously flawed” and “cannot solve” the countries’ longstanding dispute over the “comfort women.”

“Comfort women” referred to tens of thousands of women and girls – mostly from the Korean peninsula – who were coerced into working in Japanese military brothels before and during the World War II.

Moon’s made the remarks a day after a South Korean government taskforce said the agreement – in which Japan pledged to support the remaining survivors – had neglected to consider the former sex slaves’ feelings.

Kono, on the other hand, remained resolute, saying: “The Japan-South Korea agreement is an agreement between the two governments and one that has been highly appreciated by international society. If the South Korean government ... tried to revise the agreement that is already being implemented, that would make Japan’s ties with South Korea unmanageable and it would be unacceptable.”

But, Moon said: “This runs afoul of the established universal principle of the international community for settling history issues, and above all, it was a political agreement that excludes the victims themselves and citizens,” according to Yonhap news agency report.

“Along with citizens, I, as president, make it clear again that the comfort women issue can’t be settled through this deal,” the South Korean president added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also discounted his Japanese counterpart's statement, saying the agreement failed to meet the needs of victims and express deep disappointment with the terms of the deal.

“I apologize for giving wounds of the heart to the victims, their families, civil society that support them and all other people because the agreement failed to sufficiently reflect a victim-oriented approach, which is the universal standard in resolving human rights issues,” South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, said.

The disagreement puts both countries at odds and on a diplomatic collision course.

The South Korean task force pointed out that the dispute could not be “fundamentally resolved” because the victims’ demand for compensation was omitted from the agreement.

Under the accord with Moon's predecessor, disgraced ex-President Park Geun-hye, Japan apologized to the surviving victims and provided $8.8m to a welfare fund.

Moon had reviewed the agreement soon after taking office in May and has repeatedly stated that the deal is not supported by the South Korean people.

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Both countries have agreed to not criticize each other at international forums, while South Korea vowed to remove statues erected in honor of the women.

As many as 200,000 women – mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, south-east Asians and a small number of Japanese and Europeans – were reportedly forced or tricked into working in military brothels between 1932 and Japan’s defeat in 1945.

Yonhap reported that the 36 survivors, who were alive when the Dec. 2015 agreement was reached, have received or will receive money from the Japanese fund.

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