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Japan, South Korea agree to move forward on ‘comfort women’ settlement

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, affirmed in Laos on Monday their intention to implement the landmark bilateral settlement on the “comfort women” forced into Japan’s military brothels during the war by setting up a foundation this week designed to help the surviving victims.

The ministers, who are in the Laotian capital of Vientiane for a series of regional meetings, also confirmed plans for bilateral cooperation and close coordination with the United States in dealing with North Korea as they stay on alert for a fifth nuclear test or further ballistic missile launches by Pyongyang, a Japanese official said.

In a major turnaround in bilateral ties, the two ministers signed a deal in late December under which Japan pledged to deposit ¥1 billion ($9.5 million) into a new South Korean foundation dedicated to helping the surviving comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for the former sex slaves. Sources close to the matter said earlier it is set to be established this week, though not all of the women support the pact.

After that, the focus will shift to when the Japanese government will disburse the ¥1 billion. Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have said the public funds should not be released unless the statue of a girl symbolizing the comfort women is removed from its place in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

At the time of the deal, the Japanese and South Korean governments did not mention the removal of the statue as a condition for Tokyo’s contribution, but the pact said South Korea “will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”

The official said the Japanese government “has not yet decided when to disburse the money.”

While North Korea ignores global condemnation and continues to develop its nuclear arms and missile programs, Kishida reiterated Japan’s support to Yun for the plan to install an advanced U.S. missile shield in South Korea to counter nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, the official said.

The decision by Seoul and Washington to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system comes after Pyongyang carried out a fourth nuclear test in January and tested ballistic missile technology in subsequent months.

The ministers also discussed tensions in the South China Sea stirred up by China’s military buildup in the area, deemed as a bid to assert territorial claims and maritime rights, and agreed on the importance of peacefully resolving disputes.

Kishida and Yun are in Laos to take part in regional meetings involving the 10-member Association of the Southeast Asian Nations, which are being held for the first time since an international tribunal ruling earlier this month rejected China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea.