Japan said Tuesday it has lodged a protest over the South Korean foreign minister’s remark at a United Nations meeting that the issue of “comfort women” remains unresolved despite a 2015 bilateral pact designed to settle it.
The term “comfort women” is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
“The 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement that acknowledged the final and irreversible settlement of the comfort women issue should be implemented even after the change of administration” in South Korea, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.
The agreement signed in December 2015 included the establishment of a foundation to help the victims. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration, formed after the signing of the pact, decided last year to dissolve the organization, saying the issue cannot be resolved under the accord.
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in an ordinary session of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday that the matter has not been settled because the accord lacked a “victim-centered” approach.
Of the 47 former comfort women in South Korea who were alive when the foundation was set up, 36 have accepted money from the foundation, or 100 million won (¥9.8 million) each. Based on the 2015 agreement, Japan had provided ¥1 billion to help set up the foundation.
The top Japanese government spokesman told the regular news conference it is Seoul’s duty to maintain the deal, which has been “valued highly by the international community including the United Nations.”
Kang’s remarks came at a time when bilateral ties have deteriorated due to historical issues related to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea’s top court ordered Japanese companies in October and November to pay compensation for what the court recognizes as wartime forced labor during World War II, though Japan takes the position that agreements in 1965 completely resolved matters concerning property and claims between the two nations.
Earlier this month, South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang said an apology from Emperor Akihito would resolve the comfort women dispute. Tokyo demanded that he retract the remark.