SEOUL – A South Korean foundation recently launched to support former “comfort women” has asked the Japanese government for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to write a “letter of apology” to the victims, a foundation official said.
Japan late last month disbursed ¥1 billion to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation under a landmark bilateral deal struck last December over the women who were forced into wartime brothels for the Japanese military.
The foundation, which is to pay about ¥10 million to each surviving woman and ¥2 million to surviving families, hopes to boost support for the agreement by including the letter with the payment, so that more women opt to receive it. But there are fears that the request for the letter not mentioned in the December agreement may add to distrust of Seoul by Tokyo.
During a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “What is important is to implement the (Japan-South Korea) agreement over the comfort women issue, which was reached at the end of last year.”
A senior government official separately said Tokyo had not yet received a formal request from the foundation.
In the 1990s and 2000s, four Japanese prime ministers — Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi — sent signed letters of their “most sincere apologies and remorse” to former comfort women who agreed to receive atonement money from the Asian Women’s Fund, a semigovernment Japanese fund set up in 1996.
Separately in 1996, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, one of the founders of the fund, sent a longer letter of apology.
The texts of the letters in English can be read here: jtim.es/g0qV304n7dg
Some South Korean citizens’ groups that have supported former comfort women have criticized the bilateral agreement as ignoring the victims’ voices.
Such groups and about a dozen former comfort women have expressed their intention to refuse assistance from the new foundation.
After the agreement was reached in December, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Abe “as prime minister of Japan expresses a heartfelt apology and feelings of deep remorse.”
According to a government source, “that expression is everything,” and the government is taking a dim view of expressing an apology by other means.
Despite Japan having upheld its side of the agreement by dispersing the ¥1 billion to the foundation, removal of a controversial statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul remains uncertain, increasing distrust of Seoul.
Although not mentioned in the agreement, Japan, which wants the bronze statue of a seated girl taken away from the embassy, has hoped that the payment would expedite the removal.
The deal marked a milestone in Japan-South Korea ties, which have often been marred by disagreements over history. Under the agreement, the two countries agreed to resolve the issue “finally and irreversibly.”