Alarm has arisen in government circles over South Korea’s announcement that it is pressing ahead with a white paper on the so-called “comfort women,” young females whose wartime exploitation by the Imperial Japanese military was the focus of a landmark bilateral agreement last month.
Japan will pay close attention to the document, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday. Seoul announced the paper in August 2014 and is now apparently close to releasing it despite the accord that purports to settle grievances over the episode.
Earlier Tuesday, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the Comfort Women White Paper, drafted by the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, will be published on schedule and is “unrelated” to the Dec. 28 agreement between South Korea and Japan to end the decades-long dispute. The agreement declared that “the issue is resolved finally and irreversibly.”
Japan could see the move as a violation of the deal, which includes a bilateral pledge to “refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community.”
Suga told a news conference on Tuesday that Tokyo expects Seoul to “deal with the matter appropriately” in light of the Dec. 28 agreement. He said he does not know what the upcoming report will touch on.
Meanwhile, a senior Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo said the government cannot stop the publication of the white paper per se, but “will have to convey Japan’s stance to South Korea if what’s written in the white paper is too problematic.”
Other officials expressed disappointment in Seoul’s actions.
“I was surprised (by the South Korean government’s words) only days after the agreement,” an aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “I can’t trust South Korea.”
South Korea’s Gender Equality and Family Ministry earlier said the paper will be published in a range of languages, including English, Japanese and Chinese.
On the issue of a statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, which symbolizes the injured dignity of the comfort women, the South Korean spokesman stressed that the object’s future is not determined by the text of the agreement.
Japan has demanded its removal.
“Since it was erected by a civic group, the government can’t just tell them what to do or not to do,” the spokesman said.
The Japanese government has indicated that it may withhold funds the agreement requires it to provide to surviving victims if the statue remains in place. Its removal was not mentioned as a condition for the aid in a joint announcement released by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se after their talks in Seoul on Dec. 28, which led to the deal.
In a separate move on Tuesday, several civil groups in South Korea and eight other nations said they will continue their joint campaign to get documents related to the “comfort women” listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
The campaign is unaffected by the bilateral agreement, Ewha Womans University professor Shin Hei-soo told a seminar in Seoul, adding that the documents deserve a listing on the Memory of the World Register given their value as historical records and the need to preserve them.
The groups are working hard ahead of the application deadline in May to ensure a listing next year, Shin added.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it cannot interfere with the matter because the action is by private-sector groups.