Japan and South Korea reach deal on World War II wartime sex slaves

December 29, 2015 2:32 am


Korean bereaved family members of victims of World War II stage a rally
demanding full compensation and apology from Japanese government. Photo
/ AP

An apology from ’s prime minister and a pledge of more than $8
million sealed a breakthrough deal Monday in a decades-long impasse with
over Korean women forced into Japanese military-run
brothels during World War II.
The accord, which aims to resolve
the emotional core of South Korea’s grievances with its former colonial
overlord, could begin to reverse decades of animosity and mistrust
between the two thriving democracies, trade partners and staunch U.S.
allies. It represents a shift for Tokyo’s conservative government and a
new willingness to compromise by previously wary Seoul.
statement by both countries’ foreign ministers said Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe “expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all
the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and
suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women,”
the euphemistic name given the women.

Historians say tens of thousands of women from around ,
many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to
provide sex to Japanese soldiers.
It wasn’t immediately clear if
Abe would be issuing a separate written statement or if it would be
directly delivered to the 46 surviving former Korean sex slaves, now in
their 80s and 90s.
The language mirrored past expressions of
remorse by other prime ministers, although it was seen by some in Seoul
as an improvement on previous comments by Abe’s hawkish government,
which has been accused of whitewashing wartime atrocities.
deciding factor was that the 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) ” to create a
foundation to help provide support for the victims ” came from the
government, not private sources, something Tokyo has resisted in the
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Seoul
considers the agreement “final and irreversible,” as long as Japan
faithfully follows through with its promises.
Later Monday, Abe
called South Korean President Park Geun-hye and reiterated his apology.
He said Tokyo would implement the deal and called the issue settled
irreversibly. Park said she hoped the two countries will build mutual
trust and open a new era in ties based on the agreement.
phoning Park, Abe told reporters that the agreement was based on his
commitment to stop future generations from having to repeatedly
“Japan and South Korea are now entering a new era,” Abe said. “We should not drag this problem into the next generation.”
issued a separate statement saying the deal was the result of her
government’s best efforts to resolve the sex slave issue, given its
urgency. “Most of victims are at an advanced age and nine died this year
alone,” she said.
“I hope the mental pains of the elderly comfort women will be eased,” Park said.
initial reaction of former sex slaves was mixed. One woman said she
would follow the government’s lead, while another vowed to ignore the
accord because Tokyo didn’t consider the money to be formal
“Isn’t it natural to make legal compensation if
they commit a crime?” said Lee Yong-su, 88, according to South Korea’s
Yonhap agency.
Some in Seoul saw the deal, while not perfect, as an important step forward.
we brushed aside this deal, the comfort women issue would remain
unresolved forever,” said Lee Won Deog, director of Institute of
Japanese Studies at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “Elderly women would die
one by one; South Korea and Japan would engage in history wars and find
it harder to improve ties.”
Many South Koreans continue to feel
bitterness over Japan’s brutal colonial occupation of the Korean
Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. But South Korean officials have also faced
calls to improve ties with Japan, the world’s No. 3 economy and a
regional powerhouse, not least from U.S. officials eager for a strong
united front against a rising China and North Korea’s pursuit of
nuclear-armed missiles that could target the American mainland.
The U.S. welcomed the announcement, with Secretary of State John Kerry applauding the two leaders’ “courage and vision.”
believe this agreement will promote healing and help to improve
relations between two of the United States’ most important allies,”
Kerry said in a statement.
The spokesman for the U.N.
secretary-general said Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement and
appreciated the “leadership and vision” of Park and Abe.
appeared emboldened to make the overture to Seoul after the first formal
leaders’ meeting between the neighbors in 3 years, in November, and
after South Korean courts recently acquitted a Japanese reporter charged
with defaming Park and refused to review a complaint by a South Korean
seeking individual compensation for Japan’s forceful mobilization of
workers during colonial days.
Seoul, meanwhile, said it will
refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, and will talk with
“relevant organizations” ” a reference to civic groups representing the
former sex slaves ” to try to resolve Japan’s grievance over a statue of
a girl representing victims of Japanese sexual slavery that sits in
front of the Japanese Embassy in downtown Seoul. Yun said South Korea
recognizes Japan’s worries about security over the statue, where
anti-Tokyo protests take place weekly.
There has long been
resistance in South Korea to past Japanese apologies because many here
wanted Japan to acknowledge that it has a legal responsibility to the
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida later emphasized
in a closed-door briefing with Japanese reporters that Tokyo doesn’t
consider the 1 billion yen as compensation, but “a project to relieve
emotional scars and provide healing for the victims.” It will include
medical services, health checks and other support for the women, he
said. All compensation issues between the countries were settled by a
1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and was accompanied by more
than $800 million in economic aid and loans from Tokyo to Seoul, he
But Kishida said the comfort women system “deeply hurt the
honor and dignity of many women under the involvement of the Japanese
military at the time, and Japan strongly feels responsibility.”

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