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North Korea’s leader stated in his New Year’s address that the country “entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” threatening the peace and stability of the international community. Last year, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and launched more than 20 ballistic missiles in order to enhance its capabilities. Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development has reached a new level that could pose a direct threat even to the United States.

In this environment, it is extremely important for Japan and South Korea, which are both U.S. allies in Asia, as well as for the trilateral partners of Japan, South Korea and the U.S., to closely cooperate with each other in order to address the provocations of North Korea. We have made concrete progress in cooperation between Japan and South Korea, including conclusion of the Japan-ROK General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) last November.

In the background of the close cooperation among the three countries is the agreement reached at the end of December 2015 between Japan and South Korea regarding the issue of “comfort women,” which was also welcomed by the U.S. government. With this agreement, the governments of Japan and South Korea confirmed that the issue of comfort women is “resolved finally and irreversibly.” The subsequent telephone talks between the Japanese and South Korean leaders confirmed that they would take responsibility to implement this agreement. Since then, the two sides have steadily implemented it.

Specifically, based on the agreement, a foundation was established in South Korea for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women, to which the Japanese government contributed ¥1 billion from its budget. Through cooperation between the two governments, disbursement has already started for 29 elderly former comfort women to support them in such areas as medical treatment and nursing care.

In the agreement, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se stated that “the government of the ROK acknowledges the fact that the government of Japan is concerned about the statue built in front of the Embassy of Japan in Seoul from the viewpoint of preventing any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity, and will strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organizations about possible ways of addressing this issue.”

Therefore, it is highly regrettable that a South Korean activist group installed a statue at the end of last year on the sidewalk in front of the Consulate-General of Japan in Busan. The installation is also problematic in light of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The Japan-South Korea agreement was achieved with the support and cooperation of the international community, including the U.S. The international community has highly appreciated the agreement. I believe that Japan and South Korea bear responsibility to the world for their steady implementation of the agreement, which lays the foundation for further cooperation between the two countries, as well as the trilateral partnership among Japan, South Korea and the U.S.

Building upon the agreement, Japan and South Korea have worked on developing a future-oriented relationship and have also engaged in concrete cooperation in the field of security. Vice U.S. President Joe Biden mentioned on Jan. 5 in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the U.S. supported the agreement on the comfort women issue and strongly hoped that it would be steadily implemented by the two sides.

Japan sees no change in its position to advance relations with South Korea in a future-oriented manner through the steady implementation of the agreement. The government of Japan is determined to continue to contribute to peace and stability in Asia and the wider international community, with the recognition that the steady implementation of the agreement provides an important foundation for security cooperation in Asia.

Yasuhisa Kawamura is press secretary of the Foreign Ministry.

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