National / Politics

Japan dismisses South Korean criticism of ‘comfort women’ deal

Kyodo, Staff Report

Japan on Wednesday rejected a South Korean government report that raised doubts over the process that led to a bilateral deal aimed at resolving a dispute over Korean women who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.

“We see no problem in the process leading to the accord, which followed a legitimate negotiation process between the two governments,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said in a statement, adding that seeking to change the 2015 deal is “totally unacceptable.”

Kono added that Tokyo “strongly demands” that Seoul steadily implement the deal, which the two countries confirmed at the time would resolve “finally and irreversibly” the comfort women issue.

In the report issued the same day, a South Korean government task force said the opinions of former comfort women were not “sufficiently reflected” in the negotiation process led by the government of President Moon Jae-in’s impeached predecessor Park Geun-hye.

It also said the talks were conducted secretly and a renewed dispute over the issue was “unavoidable” despite the declaration by the two governments in 2015 that the issue had been resolved.

Kono lamented the report’s criticism of the deal, adding the Japanese government believes the accord was “highly acclaimed by the international community.”

“If the South Korean government seeks to change the accord … based on this report, Japan-South Korea relations will become unmanageable and (it would be) totally unacceptable,” said the foreign minister, who is currently on a six-day tour of the Middle East.

In Tokyo, another senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said, “Any attempt to overturn such a deal would be equal to saying a promise between a state and a state means nothing.”

The task force has not proposed that the accord be reviewed. The South Korean government is expected not to make a policy decision before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics end in February, apparently due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Given such a situation, the official hinted that Wednesday’s report is unlikely to have a direct impact on Japan-South Korea relationships.

The deal was seen by the Japanese side as a milestone in Japan-South Korea relations that have often been marred by historical issues.

Under the deal, the two countries agreed to resolve the issue over comfort women, a euphemism used to refer to the women and girls recruited mostly from Asian countries to provide sex to Japanese soldiers before and during World War II, with the Japanese government making a ¥1 billion ($8.8 million) contribution to a South Korean foundation to provide support for the victims.

But the South Korean government of President Moon, who was inaugurated in May, began reviewing the process that led to the deal, arguing that a majority of the South Koreans do not approve of it.

The latest development could undermine the prospect of an annual trilateral summit meeting between Japan, China and South Korea, which is slated to be organized by Tokyo this time around.

The senior government official didn’t deny the release of the report may affect the timing of such an event, while emphasizing the trio “remains positive” about the prospect of gathering together soon.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, for his part, said Wednesday that “spring next year” will be one possibility for holding the high-level meeting, but added that no details have been decided.