After decades of back and forth over seemingly unresolvable issues between Japan and South Korea, the two governments have reached what is being called an “irreversible” solution to the issue concerning Japan’s colonial-era sexual enslavement of Korean women.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, made the announcement following their closed door meeting Monday.
Yun said that if Japan maintains its side of the agreement, Korea will consider the issue “finally and irreversibly” resolved.
Along with a handwritten apology from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the agreement provides that Japan will contribute 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) towards a foundation to support the surviving victims.
“Prime Minister 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,” Kishida said.
“The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.”
“The worst is over between the two countries. The issue of historical disputes can be seen as mostly resolved and it’s now time for the two sides to talk about real issues that affect their interests.”
Tokyo also said that it “felt strongly” about its responsibility for the wartime atrocities, while acknowledging it being at the core of South Korea’s historical resentment toward its previous colonizer. Japan colonized Korea from 1910-45.
“The worst is over between the two countries,” said Jin Chang Soo, director of Japan studies at the non-profit Sejong Institute near Seoul, in an interview with Bloomberg.
“The issue of historical disputes can be seen as mostly resolved and it’s now time for the two sides to talk about real issues that affect their interests, not only how they are going to boost their trade but also how they will work together with the U.S. to reshape the geopolitical order of the region.”
Putting difficult past behind
South Korean and Japanese diplomats have met about a dozen times since April 2014 to discuss the comfort women issue.
Japan had long held that the issue of the Comfort Women was previously settled under the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Article Two of the treaty states any problems concerning property, rights and interests of the two parties and their nationals had been settled “completely and finally.”
As part of the 1965 agreement Japan provided South Korea with a total of $800 million as part of an “economic cooperation” package. In exchange, South Korea renounced rights to request reparation and compensation. This was confirmed by documents declassified by the South Korean government in 2005.
The issue, however, has continued to plague relations between the two sides right up until the present.
Historians estimate that anywhere between 50,000 to 200,000 women, many of them Korean, were used in Japan’s military brothels.
Japan apologized for its actions in 1993, while additionally setting up a compensation fund –the move was rejected by some victims and their supporters because it was privately funded, which in their view didn’t adequately place responsibility on Tokyo.
Whether the victims and civic groups that support them will welcome the agreement between Seoul and Tokyo remains to be seen.
To date 238 South Korean victims have registered with the government for redress and of those only 46 are still alive. The average age of the comfort women still alive today is 89.
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