WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye confirmed Thursday the importance of implementing last year’s agreement to settle the issue of Korean women forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
Abe and Park met one-on-one in Washington on the fringes of the Nuclear Security Summit, following their high-profile meeting in November, the first since the two leaders took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Abe was quoted by a Japanese official as telling Park that he is willing to follow up on the deal to help the women, euphemistically called “comfort women,” though some problems remain surrounding the matter in both countries.
Park said South Korea intends to implement the deal in a sincere manner, according to Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda.
Hagiuda said Abe and Park agreed to increase opportunities to meet bilaterally to improve ties, which had been seriously strained due to disputes over issues such as the interpretation of wartime history and the issue of comfort women.
The two governments reached a landmark agreement in December to settle the long-standing bilateral issue of the Korean comfort women “finally and irreversibly.”
The terms of the agreement includes an apology and a financial pledge of ¥1 billion by Japan to help improve the lives of aging former comfort women.
Tokyo has promised to provide the money to a foundation to be set up by the South Korean government. Seoul, however, has yet to create such a body as many former comfort women have criticized the Tokyo-Seoul deal, calling on Japan to admit legal responsibility for compensation. The deal was clinched without any consultation with surviving victims.
The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
Abe and Park also agreed to cooperate in settling the issues of the abduction of a number of Japanese and South Korean nationals by North Korea and families who were separated between the South and North in the confusion before and during the Korean War, according to Hagiuda.
Disputes over the interpretation of the comfort women issue have strained Tokyo-Seoul ties together with a row over Japan’s claims to a South Korea-controlled pair of islets in the Sea of Japan.
Senior officials from the two countries have been working on carrying out the comfort women deal but some in South Korea, including a number of the women and their supporters, are opposed to it.