SEOUL, March 3 (Korea Bizwire) — Despite repeated statements made by the governments of both South Korea and Japan declaring their intention to build a future-oriented relationship, conflicting views on previously arranged reparations for comfort women are continuing to be a point of contention.
In his commemorative speech on March 1, the 99th anniversary marking the beginning of large-scale independence movements against Japanese colonial rule, president Moon Jae-in fired the latest volley in the ongoing back-and-forth between the two neighboring countries by saying,“The perpetrator that is Japan should not say the matter is ‘closed.’”
It did not take long for the Japanese government to respond. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in a press briefing the same day said, “President Moon’s statements go against the South Korea and Japan agreement and thus are unacceptable.”
Suga added, “In 2015, a final and irreversible resolution to the comfort women problem was struck through the agreement made between the two countries.”
Both Moon and Suga refer to the deal culminated in December, 2015, agreed to by the South Korean government then headed by former president Park. The deal entailed the creation of a Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing devoted to the interests of comfort women and a pledge by the Japan to inject 1 billion yen into the foundation, which it honored.
A lightning rod for criticism ever since it was announced, the validity of the “South Korea-Japan Comfort Women Agreement” was eventually discounted by the new government under Moon in December last year.
After a task force had concluded its examination of the deal, Moon issued a statement saying, “This agreement is insufficient to resolve the comfort women problem.”
While Moon dismissed the words used to describe the deal as “final and irreversible”, the Japanese government urged the South Korean government to abide by their agreement.
In early January, Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-hwa clarified the government’s position in regards to the agreement, explaining that it could not serve as a valid conclusion to the comfort women problem as the demands set forth by the victims themselves had not been reflected in the deal.
Despite this flaw, however, Kang said that South Korea would not seek to renegotiate the agreement with Japan, as the deal was an official arrangement forged via mutual consent.
The issue was discussed between the two heads of state on February 9 in Pyeongchang, when Abe arrived in South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Meeting for the first time since Moon had declared the agreement to be “invalid”, neither side conceded. While Abe again pressed Moon to abide by the agreement, Moon responded that the emphasis must be on restoring the honor and dignity of the comfort women, and that an exchange between two states could not serve as a viable formula for accomplishing these goals.
Only days before March 1, the Japanese government once again took issue with a statement by the South Korean government. In a keynote speech at the UN Human Rights Council, Kang said, “The South Korean government in its attempts to resolve the comfort women problem acknowledges that an approach centered on the victims was missing.”
As before, this stoked a response from Japan. According to reporting by Kyodo News, Manabu Horii, the vice-minister of foreign affairs, reminded the international community in a speech that the comfort women problem had been resolved per the 2015 South Korea and Japan agreement.
With both sides digging in their heels, the expectation is for relations between the two countries to grow more strained.
On March 1, chairwoman Choo Mi-ae of the ruling Minjoo Party said, “Japan’s demeanor is becoming a major stumbling block to the formation of a future-oriented South Korea and Japan relationship,” while the Japanese government previously stated it would not consider “moving the agreement even 1mm.”
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)