The Japan-South Korea accord reached Monday on the “comfort women” issue drew a mix of reactions from people in Japan who have been engaged in efforts to resolve the protracted dispute.
“It has been a long time. I have hoped that it would be resolved as early as possible. It’s a good thing that a resolution has come into sight,” former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said at a news conference in Oita Prefecture on Monday.
Murayama, who as prime minister apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression in Asia in a landmark 1995 statement, said Tokyo’s “acceptance of responsibility must have been the biggest factor” leading to the agreement, and that the two countries “must have hoped to move new relations forward” by resolving the comfort women issue.
The former leader of the Social Democratic Party, who took power in 1994 in a coalition government, said on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II that Japan caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to the people of Asia and other countries through its colonial rule and aggression, and expressed “feelings of deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.”
His administration also initiated the 1995 creation of the Asian Women’s Fund, a private-sector program to pay atonement money to surviving comfort women. It was dismantled in 2007. Some of the women rejected the money because they want official government compensation.
“It was regrettable that the fund was disbanded halfway, but we are here today after that process,” Murayama said.
Haruki Wada, former executive director of the Asian Women’s Fund offered a cautious assessment of the agreement, which includes setting up a new fund for the victims amounting to around ¥1 billion.
“The Japanese government’s acknowledgment of its responsibility is a step forward, but the details of the envisioned fund are unclear,” Wada said, expressing concern the new entity could be a “repeat” of the earlier fund.
The Asian Women’s Fund was designed to provide ¥2 million in atonement money to each victim.
Wada, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, expressed concern about whether the victims will accept the new arrangement.
“I wonder how the (Japanese) government will convey its expression of apology and the way the money will be provided,” he said.
Eriko Ikeda, director of the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, which has been helping the victims and shedding light on their plight, hailed Japan’s offer of an apology but said there seems to be a gray area in the accord, saying “there is no change to the position that Japan has no legal responsibility.”
“Many of the former comfort women are saying it is not the money that is at issue. Providing money without sincere remorse will just spark protests,” Ikeda said.
In Osaka’s Ikuno district, home to a major Korean community, some residents praised the accord while some were skeptical over the resolution as a “one-time” measure.
Meanwhile, Japan’s major ruling and opposition parties welcomed the accord as a step to improving ties between the two nations.
The business community in Japan also struck a positive note, expressing hope that the accord will boost bilateral economic ties.
Bearing in mind negotiations such as that of a trilateral free trade agreement involving Japan, South Korea and China, an official at a major trading firm said, “The foundation has been laid to make progress in trade negotiations.”