Park Geun-hye, Former South Korean President, Details ‘Comfort Women’ Deal with Japan in Serialized Memoirs

Reuters file photo
Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye sits for her trial at the Seoul Central District Court on May 23, 2017.

SEOUL — Disgraced former South Korean President Park Geun-hye wrote in her memoirs that a civic group supporting former so-called comfort women had not informed in advance the women on the issue of the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement’s contents.

This was the reason Park, now 71, cited for the increasing backlash within South Korea against the agreement.

Her memoirs began serialization Wednesday in the conservative JoongAng Ilbo newspaper.

The agreement between Tokyo and Seoul that “confirms that this issue is resolved finally and irreversibly” faced strong criticism in South Korea, particularly from left-leaning factions.

The civic group that started placing a comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese Embassy played a leading role in spurring on this criticism, Park wrote.

She had instructed the group to inform the former comfort women of the negotiation process to seek their understanding. But, Park wrote, the group’s then representative, Yoon Mee-hyang, did not tell those to be affected anything about the contents of the agreement.

Yoon, currently a National Assembly member who is an independent, was sentenced late last month to 18 months in prison for embezzling funds donated to the group. She is appealing.

Park wrote that, following the agreement’s announcement, “this civic group that had not raised any objections said, ‘We didn’t hear about any of the contents beforehand,’ which stirred up public opinion opposing the deal.”

In 2017, Park was impeached and removed from the presidency for her involvement in a political scandal with the help of a friend, and subsequently imprisoned on charges including corruption and bribery. When President Moon Jae-in took over after her, his left-leaning administration effectively nullified the comfort women agreement, arguing that it did not reflect the wishes of the parties involved.

While in prison, Park heard about the handling of the issue by the Moon administration. She described in her memoir being enveloped in a “feeling of indescribable despair.”

“One must always abide by agreements once they have been reached,” she wrote. “International agreements between nations are monitored by the international community.”

In late December 2021, Moon granted a pardon to Park.

In her memoir, Park wrote that she had actively used the diplomatic stage to exert pressure on Japan, bringing up the comfort women issue during meetings with Western leaders. At the time, Japan referred to Park’s stance of raising the comfort women issue in meetings with Western leaders as “tattletale diplomacy.”

During a visit to Germany in 2014, Park wrote that she told then Chancellor Angela Merkel, “During World War II, Japan made Korean women ‘sex slaves,’ but Japan is shamelessly pretending not to know.” She explained that she chose the term “sex slaves” to emphasize the seriousness of the issue.

Park wrote that she believed Japan responded to such “international pressure.” She mentioned that she had called for an acceleration of negotiations on a comfort women deal during a summit with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul in November 2015 and Abe agreed to reach a resolution by the end of that year.