National / Politics

South Korea, Japan eye follow-up talks on 'comfort women' later this month

Kyodo

South Korea and Japan will hold follow-up talks as early as this month on the landmark deal to settle the issue of the “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, according to diplomatic sources.

The two countries have agreed to continue their director-general talks to discuss the process of implementing the deal reached late last month, but negotiations could face rough going as Japan and South Korea have put different interpretations on conditions to carry out the accord.

Japan has indicated its ¥1 billion ($8.3 million) contribution to a fund to help former comfort women will be contingent on removal of a statue symbolizing the victims that has been erected outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, according to a Japanese government source.

However, a South Korean government official has said Seoul did not promise that the statue would be removed.

Meanwhile, an official in South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family has said the ministry has started talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials on a foundation that is to be established and run with funds contributed by the Japanese government.

At a joint news conference in South Korea on Dec. 28 after the accord was reached, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Seoul “acknowledges” Tokyo’s concern about the statue and that it will “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”

His Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, said he thinks it “will be relocated appropriately.”

The statue of a girl was erected in 2011 by the Korean Council of Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery by Japan, a citizens’ group helping former comfort women, on a sidewalk near the embassy.

The South Korean group has strongly objected to the agreement and insists it will not remove the statue.

Many people in South Korea are not happy about removal of the statue as the administration of President Park Geun-hye struck the deal with Japan without asking the former comfort women’s opinions beforehand.

Two South Korean vice foreign ministers met with former comfort women on Dec. 29 in an attempt to persuade them to accept the removal of the statue, but their overtures were rejected.

A South Korean government source said the Park administration is now considering appointing a minister in charge of holding talks with the former comfort women. Some conservatives have proposed that the president try to persuade them herself.