SEOUL – The dispute over a statue honoring former comfort women outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul can be resolved, former South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said in a recent interview.
But Yu said that “now is not the time to discuss” Japanese demand for the removal of the statue of a girl, symbolizing the young females coerced into serving in wartime Imperial Japanese military brothels.
Yu is involved in preparatory work on setting up a foundation to help survivors financially. The fund was the focus of a landmark agreement between Japan and South Korea in December 2015 to resolve outstanding grievances “finally and irreversibly,” as the text put it.
A founding committee will meet soon in an effort to create the foundation as early as June, according to Yu. He serves as an adviser to an informal working group behind the foundation’s creation.
He underscored his position that Japan and South Korea should implement the measures included in the agreement while not linking the foundation with the statue’s future.
The agreement requires Japan to pay ¥1 billion into the foundation and for South Korea to oversee its disbursement to surviving comfort women, who are now aged and few in numbers.
The agreement states that South Korea acknowledges Japan’s concern over the statue and will strive to solve the issue through consultations with organizations involved.
Regarding the foundation, Yu said that an article of association will be drawn up to specify the purposes of its activities and that candidates to lead it will be picked from a broad range of fields. The ideal person would be a female leader from the private sector, he said.
On the statue, Yu said if the South Korean government were to make demands it would invite a backlash.
“The government should do what it should. If former comfort women come to support government measures, the government should then discuss with them and the organization that created (the statue) in search of a solution,” he said.
A former South Korean ambassador to Japan, Yu said he believes the bilateral relationship will improve this year because of the accord reached over the comfort women.
He noted that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye will have a number of opportunities to hold meetings this year, including a three-way meeting of the Japanese, South Korean and Chinese leaders slated to be held in Japan.
“If leaders hold talks frequently, it will offer hopes for development of bilateral relations,” he said.