SEOUL – South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday expressed hope that a deal reached the same day between South Korea and Japan over women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels marks a new start for bilateral relations, according to the South Korean presidential office.
The agreement, however, received mixed reviews among former comfort women, with some dismissing it as no more than a diplomatic expediency.
“I hope the outcome of the negotiations could be sincerely implemented and lead relations between South Korea and Japan to start from a new starting point,” Park was quoted as saying at a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the presidential office. The deal was struck following talks in Seoul between Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se.
Park also said it is “most important for Japan to sincerely and swiftly carry out what has been agreed on to restore the honor and dignity of the victims and heal their mental wounds.”
She hailed the deal as having “much greater significance” since it could be reached through mutual efforts within 2015, when the two countries marked the 50th year of the normalization of diplomatic ties. On Nov. 2, she and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to speed up talks to resolve the “comfort women” issue as early as possible.
However, among women who were victimized by the Japanese military, the agreement was not received so enthusiastically.
Yu Hui Nam, a former comfort woman speaking at a press conference held at a home for such women in Seoul, said that she cannot be satisfied with the agreement. However, Yu, 87, acknowledged the government’s efforts to reach a solution by year-end and indicated she would abide by the result.
Ahn Shin-gwon, the director of the facility, took a more critical view, pointing out that Japan’s “legal responsibility” is not spelled out in the agreement. “It’s merely a slapdash unholy alliance between the South Korean and Japanese governments that excludes the victims,” she said.
The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan, an organization that supports former comfort women, also dismissed the agreement as “diplomatic collusion that betrays the victims and citizens.”
The council added that it is inconceivable that the South Korean government would give its consent to the removal of the statue in front of the Japanese Embassy.
Lee Yong Soo, a former comfort women, told a press conference at the council’s office that Japan should provide official compensation for its crimes. Lee, 87, said she would “totally ignore” the agreement.
Later in the day, Park issued a statement to the nation seeking the understanding of the victims and the public at large for the agreement.
“As for Japan’s historical wrongdoings, I ask you victims and the people to understand the agreement in view of efforts to improve relations between South Korea and Japan and from a broader perspective,” the message said.
“The agreement has resulted from utmost efforts made to work out an agreement as quickly as possible under the situation in which only 46 victims are alive after nine died this year,” she said in the “message to the people” posted on the website of the presidential office.
“Through the agreement, sufferings of the victims should be clearly remembered in the hearts of our descendants and a similar occurrence should never be repeated in our history,” Park added.