S. Korea should not Be Allowed to Neglect 2015 Comfort Women Pact

The actions taken by the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which have trampled on the spirit of the agreement, are simply insincere. The Japanese government should broaden the understanding of the international community and prevent the agreement from going adrift.

Five years have passed since Japan and South Korea agreed on Dec. 28, 2015, that the issue of comfort women had been “finally and irreversibly” resolved. It is regrettable that this agreement has lost its substance.

Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse” to former comfort women. The Japanese government has faithfully implemented the agreement, including the provision of ¥1 billion to a foundation established in South Korea to support former comfort women.

The United States and other countries also strongly praised the agreement, and more than 70% of surviving former comfort women accepted cash provisions from the foundation.

However, the Moon administration, criticizing then South Korean President Park Geun-hye for concluding the agreement, dissolved the foundation, saying “the agreement does not adequately reflect the views of the victims.”

The Moon administration has also abandoned its responsibility to make efforts to resolve the issue of the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women that was set up in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

In 2017, South Korea established a “day to honor comfort women.” It must be criticized as irresponsible to stir up anti-Japanese public opinion with no prospect of resolving the situation.

In September, the former head of a group supporting former comfort women that had put the girl statue in front of the Japanese Embassy was indicted for misusing donations. The Moon administration must stop pandering to groups that spread anti-Japan propaganda and exercise leadership to overcome problems.

It also needs to be vigilant regarding the fact that pro-South Korean civic groups are campaigning to set up statues of girls in foreign countries.

In central Berlin, a statue of a girl was installed on publicly owned land. The Japanese Embassy’s explanation at one point led to a decision to remove the statue, but a local liberal lawmaker sided with the group that installed the statue and there is no prospect for its removal.

The Japanese government should patiently convey the message to the international community that the issue was resolved with the Japan-South Korea agreement and that it has provided generous support to former comfort women.

The Moon administration has also failed to find a way to resolve the situation in which the South Korean Supreme Court ordered Japanese companies to pay compensation to former requisitioned workers from the Korean Peninsula.

The rulings obviously run counter to the 1965 Japan-South Korea Agreement on the Settlement of Problems concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation, which settled the issue of claims. Diplomacy will inevitably stagnate if a country fails to observe a promise with another country.

Given the security environment in East Asia, cooperation between Japan and South Korea is vital. U.S. President-elect Joe Biden once praised the 2015 agreement. It is important for Japan to seek U.S. understanding anew, to strengthen cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 29, 2020.