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Japan, South Korea reach ‘final’ deal to settle ‘comfort women’ issue

AP, Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

The foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea announced an agreement Monday to resolve the decades-long impasse over Korean females who were forced into brothels run by the Imperial Japanese military before and during World War II.

Later in the day, following the foreign ministers’ talks, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe telephoned President Park Geun-hye and offered Japan’s “sincere apology and remorse” over the issue.

Abe told reporters in Tokyo after the phone call that the landmark agreement heralds a “new era” in relations between the two countries.

“We were able to reach a final and irreversible resolution in the year marking the 70th anniversary” of the end of World War II and the end of Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula, Abe said in remarks shown live on NHK.

“We cannot force our children, grandchildren and children of our future generations to shoulder a fate by which they have to keep apologizing,” he said.

At a joint news conference in Seoul earlier, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Abe would be offering an apology to the former “comfort women” and that Tokyo will finance a ¥1 billion aid fund for the aging survivors that is to be set up by South Korea.

Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, also said the two countries confirmed that the issue will be resolved once and for all.

“On the premise that the steps (agreed on) will be implemented steadily, our governments will confirm that the comfort women issue will be settled in a final and irreversible manner,” Kishida said.

Yun said that Seoul considers the agreement “final and irreversible,” as long as Japan faithfully follows through on its promises.

Kishida said Abe will extend a sincere apology and express remorse to the victims and that the Japanese government recognizes its responsibility over the issue.

The issue of the former sex slaves, which Japan euphemistically calls the ianfu, or comfort women, is the biggest source of diplomatic friction between Seoul and Tokyo. The nations, both staunch U.S. allies, have seen animosity rise since Abe’s inauguration in 2012.

The agreement would remove what Park has described as “the biggest obstacle to efforts to improve bilateral relations,” as time runs out on 2015, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.

Japan also wants South Korea to remove a statue of a girl symbolizing the victims that was installed by a citizens’ group in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Yun stopped short of saying that would happen but said the government will continue talks on the matter with the organizations involved, in an apparent reference to the citizens’ group.

The meeting came after the United States stepped up pressure on its key Asian allies to mend ties in the face of an increasingly assertive China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Better relations between South Korea and Japan are a priority for Washington. The two countries together host about 80,000 U.S. troops and are members of the now-stalled six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in return for aid.

To make the deal irreversible, Tokyo and Seoul are considering confirming it in a joint statement that Abe and Park would issue in their next talks, possibly in the U.S., according to sources familiar with bilateral relations.

South Korea has demanded that Japan make an official apology and offer reparations with recognition of legal responsibility.

Japan has maintained that the issue was legally settled under a 1965 basic treaty with South Korea and an attached agreement, which states issues regarding property and claims between the two countries are “settled completely and finally.”

The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

Given its position, Japan has no plans to acknowledge legal responsibility and pay reparations or government compensation. Instead, it is advocating the formation of the government-backed fund from a humanitarian perspective, the sources said.

The fund would effectively expand a little-known state-run follow-up program to the now-defunct Asian Women’s Fund, which was a pool of private donations that was set up at Tokyo’s initiative in 1995 and lasted through 2007.

The government allocated ¥15 million in fiscal 2015 to the program, which finances periodic visits to the victims’ homes and provides medical and other welfare assistance.

Citing the gap between their positions, experts predict the name of the new fund will become a contentious issue as well. Tokyo favors the word “atonement,” but Seoul prefers “compensation.”

“An act by a government using the state budget can be interpreted as an act accompanied by legal responsibility,” Lee Won-deok, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, was quoted as saying in the weekend edition of the Korea Joongang Daily.

“If the money is not clearly labeled as reparations, the Japanese government can explain to rightists in the country that it was providing humanitarian assistance to the victims because there was a shortcoming after the 1965 settlement,” Lee said. “A gray area can be created to allow Seoul and Tokyo to interpret the measure the way each needs.”

  • Steve Jackman

    Glad Tokyo saw the folly of its original offer of 100 Million Yen in compensation and is now offering a more reasonable amount of 1 Billion Yen. Let this be a lesson that lowballing is not a good negotiating tactic since it never works.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Yawn

  • tisho

    I think this agreement and conditions are not good for SK. What they want is for Japan to acknowledge the existence and suffering of these sex slaves, and take proper responsibility. What they get now is just money, nothing more. Japan will continue to deny and whitewash its history, it will continue to insult these women, because the Japanese kids are not taught of these sex slaves. The SK side should have attached two conditions for Japan: 1. Include the world wide verified info. of these women into your textbooks, and enforce their usage nation wide. 2. Never again any government official to express any denial or downplay of these women. These two conditions would’ve been best for SK. I bet within few months some Japanese officials will again visit the Yasukuni Shrine, and some mayor will deny the existence of the sex slaves. As long as the Japanese are not taught of this, this issue will not be resolved. It’s like Germans to not be taught of the Holocaust, and Israel expecting them to stop denying it. It’s just not going to happen.

  • Toolonggone

    I believe this is a good start for both countries. I know there are still a chunk of roadblocks ahead of them, and we will expect detractors from both of the isles(e.g., left and right camps in both countries). Even so, this provisional agreement is a huge progress compared to Abe the first. It’s definitely better than the previous offer that was made 20 years ago. Let’s see how this will turn out when both national leaders meet each other in the next few months.

    • KenjiAd

      Kudos for the diplo’s from both countries.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

    • blondein_tokyo

      How is it better? I’m curious why you think so, since the only thing I can see that is different is that they gave over a lot more hush money.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Congratulations to Abe Shinzo and Park Geun-hye for this “complete” and “final” agreement, featuring the apology and responsibility of the Japanese government accompanied by something far larger than a token fund from Japan. There will undoubtedly be a continuation of revisionism by politicians in Japan — that’s in the nature of a free Japan — but no longer will there be the government playing around with the Kono Statement. Similarly, there will be continuing anti-Japanese sentiment by some in Korea — that is part and parcel of the freedoms that Koreans passionately pursue as well — but as poll after poll have indicated most Koreans want to settle this issue and move on because the Koreans are also keenly aware of their geopolitical circumstances.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Congratulations to Abe Shinzo and Park Geun-hye for this “complete” and “final” agreement, featuring the apology and responsibility of the Japanese government accompanied by something far larger than a token fund from Japan. There will undoubtedly be a continuation of revisionism by politicians in Japan — that’s in the nature of a free Japan — but no longer will there be the government playing around with the Kono Statement. Similarly, there will be continuing anti-Japanese sentiment by some in Korea — that is part and parcel of the freedoms that Koreans passionately pursue as well — but as poll after poll have indicated most Koreans want to settle this issue and move on because the Koreans are also keenly aware of their geopolitical circumstances.

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    Japan pleas remember to always negotiate from a position of power. I do not agree with this agreement because the Chinese and North Koreans are watching this very closely. This makes the Japanese look week and trust me it will not change the anti Japanese feeling in the region. Who cares about the comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese embassy. The South Korean govern and South Korean military used the comfort women as well. The surviving comfort women will not see a dime of this money. If it were a European country who used the comfort women the South Korean government would not be asking for anything nor will a European country offer any money.

    The South Korean people are being hypocrites because in the Philippines
    there are so many half Korean babies that were abandoned by their Korean fathers. So can we look at the Filipinas as comfort women to South Korean men?

  • Revelation

    The only thing Japan owes South Korea is proof that future generations will know the truth, and that itself is priceless. The Korean government made a huge mistake, pursuing the wrong solution, then again some people only care about the money. Now sit back and watch as a future Japanese leader is bound to tamper with this issue again, and the Korean people revolt against it.

  • Kessek

    So is it over now?

  • AmIJustAPessimistOrWhat?

    The above JT article states:

    “The fund would effectively expand a little-known state-run follow-up program to the now-defunct Asian Women’s Fund, which was a pool of private donations that was set up at Tokyo’s initiative in 1995 and lasted through 2007”

    From a BBC article on 10 April 2007, “Japan’s divisive ‘comfort women’ fund”

    “Haruki Wada, the fund’s executive director, admitted that there was initial confusion about the fund’s status.

    So he started his explanation of the fund by giving some facts:

    + 565m yen ($4.7m) was raised in donations from the Japanese people, and given to 285 comfort women from Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines, each of whom received about 2m yen ($16,700)

    + 770m yen ($6.5m) in taxpayers’ money was provided to pay for medical fees for these women, and for 79 other women from the Netherlands

    + 370 million yen ($3.1m) was spent building medical facilities and old peoples’ homes in Indonesia, rather than compensating individuals there, and the rest was used for the fund’s running costs and other smaller projects”

    So it appears the money was both private and public, NOT private only as usually stated as a reason for rejecting the attempt at reconciliation.

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    Many of the 46 women are being housed in nursing homes operated by the anti-Japanese activist organizations. The money will go to these organizations and used for continuous anti-Japanese movements. Little will go to these former prostitutes.

  • Richard Solomon

    While any of us interested observers might offer different conditions for such an agreement, the main thing is whether Abe and Park agree on it. If they do, then it is incumbent on both of them to persuade their cohorts and supporters that it is in their country’s best interests to accept this ‘final’ agreement. We shall see if both Park and Abe stick to and sign this deal or not. Or will they find some detail to object to and scuttle it at the last moment?

  • CaptainAsia

    This really is about money, money and more money. Nothing about diplomacy.

  • CaptainAsia

    Now lets see Korea take action over the Han lai dan issue.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    Shinzo writes a ‘sorry for the sex-slaves’ letter? He must sense that Abenomics isn’t fooling anyone, and his days are numbered.

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is the lamest notpology I have ever seen. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the government’s complicity in kidnapping these women and forcing them into sexual slavery, they are insisting Korea drop it and even take down the statues erected in honor of these women. I’m infuriated. Sacrificing women for political gain – why am I not surprised, considering how Abe has not lifted a finger to do anything about gender inequality in Japan?

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is the lamest notpology I have ever seen. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the government’s complicity in kidnapping these women and forcing them into sexual slavery, they are insisting Korea drop it and even take down the statues erected in honor of these women. I’m infuriated. Sacrificing women for political gain – why am I not surprised, considering how Abe has not lifted a finger to do anything about gender inequality in Japan?

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is the lamest notpology I have ever seen. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the government’s complicity in kidnapping these women and forcing them into sexual slavery, they are insisting Korea drop it and even take down the statues erected in honor of these women. I’m infuriated. Sacrificing women for political gain – why am I not surprised, considering how Abe has not lifted a finger to do anything about gender inequality in Japan?

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is the lamest notpology I have ever seen. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the government’s complicity in kidnapping these women and forcing them into sexual slavery, they are insisting Korea drop it and even take down the statues erected in honor of these women. I’m infuriated. Sacrificing women for political gain – why am I not surprised, considering how Abe has not lifted a finger to do anything about gender inequality in Japan?

  • blondein_tokyo

    This is the lamest notpology I have ever seen. Not only did they fail to acknowledge the government’s complicity in kidnapping these women and forcing them into sexual slavery, they are insisting Korea drop it and even take down the statues erected in honor of these women. I’m infuriated. Sacrificing women for political gain – why am I not surprised, considering how Abe has not lifted a finger to do anything about gender inequality in Japan?

  • Malaysian Expat

    I hope the poor women will get the money before it is siphoned off for various other organisation.

    Comfort women issue has spawned a whole industry in Korea and China milking it for their own agenda. They won’t let this be the final and complete settlement.

  • 大千釜 創雷

    Worst decision ever made by the post-war Japanese government. As mentioned in the article, all issues concerning Japan’s colonial rule of Korea have been officially settled by the peace treaty. Nevertheless, the South Koreans persistently kept demanding an apology and compensation from Japan. Yielding to the persistent cry, the Japanese government established a fund to collect money and then provided it as well as an apology letter written by the then Japanese prime minister to former comfort women including non-Korean ones. Despite all of this, they have made yet another concession… I was not expecting much from Shinzo Abe, but now I have no hope for him.

  • Bernadette Soubirous

    A lot of Koreans (even Southern) have resentment towards Japan, and it will never die. The hatred for Japan is still being used as an excuse (and has been for over half a century) by the Kims as a reason to stay separatist from the South and isolated from the world.
    The irony is that the North Korean regime has done things equally as brutal, if not more – so than the Japanese did yet keep their country divided and locked in perpetual civil war divided by an invisible line on some latitudinal coordinate.

  • xexex

    It’s too late. Way, way too late for the effort to come off as sincere. Especially since it only consists of a bit of coffee money.

    It’s always interesting to see the apologists that comment on these articles. I wonder if ISIS will see the same kind of support 100 years from now. “They weren’t that bad”, “They’ve apologized”, etc. It’s as if they don’t comprehend the gravity of what happened.

  • Max Erimo

    Seriously. All Japan has to do is look at how Germany dealt with the history it would have rather forgotten. As with everything else just throwing money at it won’t solve the problem.

  • 大千釜 創雷

    Setting up a statue in front of an embassy is in no way a “political speech”. Everyone has the right to conduct protests in front of embassies, but not to set up a statue, which will always be there once done. This applies to Japan and all the other countries, too. You can protest against the South Korean government in front of the South Korean embassy, but not erect a statue or anything of the sort.

  • A.J. Sutter

    Interesting that so far virtually all the comments are focused on the merits of the agreement, without thinking more objectively about the political impact. The fact is that many people in both Japan and South Korea will be angry about this.

    Probably many in South Korea will feel that Japan is getting off too easy — the money is too small, and the apology came from the Foreign Minister, instead of from the mouth of Abe personally. In addition to resentment at Japan, President Park and her party also may feel the heat.

    What’s certain is that many in Japan are angry. Abe has succeeded in getting broad support because of his ability to rouse nationalist sentiments while distracting people from his poor handling of the economy (other than for the wealthiest few). These supporters are bound to feel betrayed. Compounding that feeling is a suspicion (which I am neither condoning nor repudiating) that now that Japan has admitted its guilt, South Korea will exploit that to make repeated monetary demands in the future.

    It’s a dangerous mixture for the LDP: Abe is alienating both his base and swing voters in the middle. Even some of my wife’s politically moderate friends who supported Abe immediately wrote to her to express their disgust, within hours of the deal being announced. In a sense Abe was courageous to alienate those on his far right — his wife’s visit to Yasukuni today was almost certainly meant as damage control. But more moderate voters who followed him solely because of his nationalism might be less likely to follow him further. (Moreover, it was unusually maladroit of him to make the announcement on the last working day of the year, just as throngs of sarariiman were going out drinking — he provided a ready-made topic of conversation.) If the angry reaction prevails, then the possibility of dissolution of the Lower House and a double election in July 2016 (which has until now been assumed by the political parties) just got more remote.

    The big winner in this is the US. Obviously both Japan and Korea were under pressure to shut up about this issue. Abe’s opponents, and those newly disillusioned with him, can point out that the agreement is yet another instance of his putting US interests above those of Japan. I suspect that eventually this also will be portrayed as an achievement of Ambassador Kennedy, helping to rehabilitate the political career she trashed in various ways while being considered to fill the Senate seat Hillary Clinton vacated in 2009.

  • http://registeredalien.weebly.com gpiper

    It all sounds good. But “sincere apology and remorse” is not an apology. An apology is when a person says, “Yes, this happened [admission]. It was wrong [confession]. I’m sorry [apology].” Japanese leader will never say that – largely, I guess, because that’s not how they conceive an apology. The Japanese conception of apology is to say they “regret” something – as if a thing happened accidentally, without their direct involvement – and then to express “remorse” over it – as if it’s not their fault to begin with.

  • 69station

    If the information came out 3 days before the agreement was reached at the ministerial level (the level that counts) then it was premature, i.e. misinformation.

  • Erhe R.

    Remember the 6 million comfort women!

  • TechnicalTranslator

    Refer to Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49, UNITED STATES OFFICE OF WAR INFORMATION Psychological Warfare Team Attached to U.S. Army Forces India-Burma TheaterAPO 689

  • Pop Eye

    Wow just move on already. Im sure the Japanese people are not proud of this and have offered their apologies. I dont understand why korean people hold on to this passed incident so dearly when things like holocaust and civil rights movements in america are already long forgotten.