• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved the disbursement of ¥1 billion ($9.8 million) to a South Korean foundation to help Korean women forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military.

When the transfer of the money to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation is completed, Japan will have fulfilled all responsibilities pledged in the landmark bilateral deal struck last December over the aging comfort women, paving the way for implementation of support measures for those still living.

Tokyo has made every effort to ensure the funds are not deemed as reparations, in line with its stance that all compensation claims were “settled completely and finally” under an agreement attached to the 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between Japan and South Korea.

Still, Japan hopes that by making progress on the “comfort women” issue, it will strengthen its ties with South Korea, as well as its trilateral cooperative ties involving the United States in order to better deal with North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s rising military assertiveness at sea, Government sources said.

The money will be disbursed from reserve funds of some ¥350 billion under the fiscal 2016 budget. The Japanese government has apparently decided to disburse the money from reserve funds as the usage of such funds does not need Diet deliberations.

Japan expects that the South Korean foundation will use the money for medical and nursing purposes, while the entity will also mull giving cash to the victims and their families as “healing money.”

Some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have said the money should not be transferred unless the statue of a girl in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, symbolizing the comfort women, is removed, as demanded by Tokyo.

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

While Japan hopes that when the money is disbursed, South Korea will make efforts to remove the statue, prospects remain unclear with public opposition to Japan’s disbursement of the ¥1 billion still strong in South Korea.

The deal over comfort women was a milestone in Japan-South Korea ties that have often been marred by historical issues. Under the deal, the two countries agreed to resolve the issue “finally and irreversibly.”

Also on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida was scheduled to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, in Tokyo on the sidelines of a trilateral gathering also involving Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The meeting is being seen by some as an opportunity for the Japanese and South Korean ministers to affirm the strengthening of ties.

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