The historic “comfort women” agreement made progress Friday as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo and Seoul have largely agreed to spend some of Japan’s ¥1 billion contribution on medical and nursing care for the survivors.
How the money will be used has become a significant hurdle in the deal for Japan, which for legal reasons wants to avoid the perception it is making reparations.
In telephone talks with South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se, the pair discussed completing the payment in accordance with the agreement they signed in December to permanently settle the issue. Kishida said the government will work out the process to release the funds “as soon as possible.”
“With the completion of the payment, the Japanese side will fulfill the responsibility of the agreement last year,” Kishida again told reporters afterward.
It remains unknown if the comfort women statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul will be removed as the Japanese government has requested. The agreement stopped short of promising this, but says Seoul “will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner.”
Kishida touched on the statue in the talks and said Yun reconfirmed that the South Korean side plans to fulfill its responsibilities.
Under Friday’s accord, Japan will provide funds to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, a body launched in July by the South Korean government.
The South Korean government will use the funds as “healing money” for the former comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for the females forced into wartime sexual service at Japan’s military brothels, and their families. Only 40 victims remain, Seoul says.
Friday’s agreement came after tenuous negotiations by both sides. On Tuesday, Kenji Kanasugi, director-general at the foreign ministry’s Asia and Oceanic Affairs Bureau, met with his counterpart in Seoul to discuss how the money will be spent.
Tokyo feared the funds might be used for purposes unrelated to healing the wounds of the women and restoring their dignity.
Japan is also worried the fund will be perceived as a form of postwar reparations. Tokyo maintains that all settlement and reparations were finalized with the 1965 pact that normalized bilateral relations.
Kishida stressed that the money is to help the survivors. There was no word as to when Seoul may tackle the question of the statue, especially at a time when South Korean President Park Geun-hye is considered to be a leader with diminishing power.
Members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been vocal in their concerns about the statue. In a meeting this month, LDP policy chief Tomomi Inada — recently appointed defense minister — called the statue’s removal central to the agreement.
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