SEOUL – South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday called on her people to support the deal on wartime sex slavery brokered with Japan on Monday.
Her call came a day after a South Korean civic group vowed to begin work erecting additional statues similar to one in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul that commemorates the ordeal of girls and young women forced to become “comfort women” for Imperial Japanese troops.
As claim and counter-claim flew over the Tokyo-Seoul agreement, Park’s office issued a statement Thursday saying it would be “extremely difficult” to conclude a deal that satisfies everyone.
The statement urged South Koreans to work toward the improvement of bilateral ties after years of deadlock, asking for “understanding” by them and by the victims with regard to the broader view, to “rally support for the future of the country.”
The bronze statue of a young woman clad in traditional Korean clothes has drawn the ire of Japan, which has asked for it to be removed.
However, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan said Wednesday it was planning new statues both in South Korea and other countries as a show of its opposition to Monday’s landmark deal between Japan and South Korea to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the long-standing dispute.
The group made the pledge at its weekly rally in front of the embassy, which saw around 700 people gather to protest and mourn the deaths this year of nine former comfort women, according to local police.
The rallies have been held more than 1,000 times, Yonhap News Agency reported. The event Wednesday was the first since the agreement between the two nations was struck.
While the agreement has drawn criticism from the victims and others over Tokyo’s refusal to accept formal legal responsibility, many in particular object to the South Korean government’s agreement to “make efforts” toward removing the comfort women statue.
“The fight is still on,” survivor Lee Yong-soo, 88, said at the rally. “We will continue to fight to make Japan take formal legal responsibility and apologize so that victims who have already perished will have justice.”
The mood was somber as the group commemorated the nine former sex slaves who died this year. It later turned angry, with protesters shouting slogans denouncing Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Demonstrators held portraits of the victims and waved banners condemning the deal, particularly Seoul’s pledge to try to remove the statue from outside the embassy.
“Cancel the humiliating agreement!” some chanted, waving banners that read: “Say no to relocation of the statue!”
The Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday quoted a South Korean official as denying Japanese news reports that Seoul agreed to relocate the statue.
“Japan made no such demand during the negotiations,” the official told Yonhap on condition of anonymity.
Nevertheless, observers have noted that Japan would find it difficult to implement the deal if the South Korean government fails to convince the council to remove the statue.The statue was erected in December 2011, with Japan calling for its removal ever since. The civic group behind the statue said there were 27 similar monuments in South Korea, with a further three outside the country.
In the face of criticism, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has launched an all-out campaign to win public support for the deal. Senior officials on Tuesday visited shelters for the victims and pleaded for their support — a key step in securing broader approval.
The handful of comfort women who have spoken about the agreement have mostly rejected it, but the views of others are not known.
However, a recent poll showed 66 percent of South Koreans opposed relocating the statue.
Park has called for “understanding by the public and the victims” regarding the deal, which was warmly welcomed by the United States. It has long urged its two key Asian allies to resolve their differences.
Up to 200,000 women in Asia, many of them Koreans but also from China, the Philippines and what is now Indonesia are estimated to have been forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Japan has long maintained that its disputes with South Korea were fully settled in a 1965 agreement which saw the two countries normalize diplomatic ties and Tokyo make a payment of $800 million.
But Seoul has said that the treaty did not cover compensation for victims of wartime crimes and did not absolve Japan of responsibility.
The compromise agreement also drew a mixed reaction in Japan, with some far-right activists and newspapers criticizing Abe for offering an apology.
China took a different tack, with state media slamming Japan’s long-awaited mea culpa as insincere and insufficient.