WASHINGTON - Japan and the United States have affirmed the importance of Tokyo and Seoul implementing a 2015 bilateral agreement to resolve issues surrounding Korean “comfort women,” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.
On Monday, Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan discussed the 2015 deal in talks at the State Department, ahead of a meeting later this week between U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the White House. Sugiyama said Sullivan agreed that the deal should be implemented.
Moon, who took office last month, has criticized the agreement, which was reached under the administration of his conservative predecessor Park Geun-hye, saying it is not accepted by the people of South Korea.
Sugiyama told Sullivan that Japan “intends to steadily implement the agreement that has been valued highly by the international community including the United States,” according to Sugiyama, who briefed reporters about the talks at the State Department.
In accordance with the December 2015 agreement to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue, Japan disbursed ¥1 billion last year to a South Korean fund providing support for the affected women. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse” to the comfort women for the suffering they experienced.
But the deal was criticized by some in South Korea for failing to reflect the voices of the affected women, and Moon pledged during his election campaign to renegotiate the agreement.
In Monday’s talks, Sugiyama told Sullivan that Japan and the Moon administration had “made a good start” in advancing bilateral relations, and that Tokyo seeks to strengthen the partnership, as well as trilateral coordination with Washington in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.
Sugiyama said he and Sullivan agreed that Japan and the United States must apply pressure with sanctions on North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile programs.
They also affirmed the need to press China, the North’s main economic and diplomatic benefactor, to play a larger role in reining in its neighbor.