The money Japan promised in the “comfort women” agreement Monday won’t be paid unless the symbolic comfort women statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul is removed, a Japanese government source said, casting a shadow over the historic deal.
The text agreed by Seoul and Tokyo does not make removal a precondition for provision of funds.
The condition was set by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the source said Wednesday, amid looming domestic opposition to the use of public funds to help the ianfu (comfort women) while the statue remains.
Ianfu is Japan’s euphemism for the girls and women who were rounded up to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. Many of the victims were from the Korean Peninsula, which was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
It will be a “litmus test” to gauge how serious the South Korean government is about resolving the matter, the government source said.
The individual said the agreement, a gesture of commitment by the Abe administration, is a bid to push Seoul to settle the issue once and for all.
The source noted that even though Tokyo believed the matter of the comfort women was resolved in a 1965 deal, it has helped the victims via the Asian Women’s Fund, and in 2001 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent letters of apology to them.
The source said Abe believed the South Korean government had been “moving the goal posts” every time the nation underwent a change in leadership. If this occurred again, Tokyo was worried about a significant backlash from the Japanese public.
The source said the South Korean government recognized that Japan’s disbursement of the money, which Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said will total ¥1 billion, is contingent upon the statue’s removal.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a group of South Korean reporters Wednesday that Seoul will urge Tokyo to refrain from behavior “that could cause misunderstanding,” an apparent reference to reports that Japan intended to link the money to the fate of the statue.
The statue’s removal was not mentioned as a condition for the financial aid when Kishida and Yun jointly announced the deal in Seoul on Monday. South Korea said of the statue in the announcement that it “will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”
The statue of a girl symbolizing the issue was erected in 2011 by the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic group that supports survivors of the wartime ordeal, on a sidewalk near the embassy.
The group has refused calls to remove the statue and said at Wednesday’s weekly protest rally that it will try to get more of them built inside and outside South Korea.
Abe’s Facebook page has been flooded with protest messages from those dissatisfied with the bilateral agreement. Some branded it “a diplomatic defeat” and others threatened not to support his Cabinet.