The government is considering establishing a ¥100 million aid fund for former “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels before and during the war, sources said.
The government plans to propose the new fund at a meeting of the Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers in Seoul on Monday, with the aim of reaching a “final settlement” on the divisive issue, the sources said Friday.
The new fund is seen expanding the existing aid program for the mostly Asian women, which was launched after the dissolution of the semi-governmental Asian Women’s Fund, which was based on private-sector contributions.
The Japanese side also plans to deliver handwritten letters of apology by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to any of the surviving women.
Meanwhile, Japan will demand that the South Korean side remove a statue of a girl symbolizing the comfort women, known as ianfu in Japanese, from a road in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and confirm it will never bring up the issue again.
“We can’t conclude the talks without an agreement that this is the end,” a Japanese government official said.
South Korean government sources said Saturday that Seoul would consider relocating the statue if Tokyo offers acceptable conditions for settling the long-standing row.
Seoul is also planning to accept Tokyo’s request that South Korean President Park Geun-hye refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, which involved girls and women from the Korean Peninsula who were swayed, coerced or otherwise rounded up to provide sex to soldiers in Japanese military brothels, when she holds talks with the leaders of other countries, the sources said.
Japan’s control of the Korean Peninsula started in 1910 and ended in 1945, when it surrendered to the Allied Powers.
Estimates vary, but historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi has calculated Japan controlled at least 50,000 comfort women; other estimates go as high as 200,000.
The bronze statue was erected by a Korean civic group in December 2011, on the occasion of its 1,000th day of protest in front of the embassy. The protests have been held every Wednesday since 1992.
It remains uncertain whether the South Korean government can convince the civic group to move the statue. The body has been demanding that the Japanese government offer an apology and compensation to the Korean victims.
To guarantee a final settlement to the issue, the government is considering having Abe and Park confirm it in the presence of a third country at a meeting to be held possibly on the sidelines of a multilateral gathering, sources said.
Abe and Park agreed at a summit on Nov. 2 to work to conclude talks on the issue soon, with Park calling for a solution that will be accepted by victims and supported by the Korean public.
Some supporters and surviving former comfort women in South Korea are demanding Japan take legal responsibility, while the Japanese government insists all legal compensation issues between the two countries were resolved by a clear bilateral treaty in 1965.
The ministers’ meeting Monday comes amid easing bilateral tensions, following recent developments including the acquittal of a Japanese journalist indicted for allegedly defaming Park.