S. Korea, Japan reach deal on 'comfort women': Some dismiss deal; others say it's a chance to move on
SEOUL • The deal yesterday between Seoul and Tokyo to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Japan's use of wartime sex slaves disappointed some of the "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese brothels during World War II, while the Philippines said the agreement could serve as a model for any similar pact with Japan.
Up to 200,000 women and young girls mostly from the Korean peninsula, China, the Philippines and what is now Indonesia were taken to former Japanese military installations. Few of them survive, 70 years after the war's end.
"I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a ground- breaking achievement," Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at a press conference in Seoul after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung Se.
TERMS OF THE DEAL
• Under the terms of the agreement, the Japanese government will provide 1 billion yen (S$11.7 million) to a fund for compensating victims.
• The South Korean government will establish a foundation to provide support for former comfort women. Japan's one-time contribution will provide funds for the foundation. Projects for recovering the honour and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former comfort women are to be carried out under the cooperation of both governments, the agreement says.
• The Japanese government said the agreement means the comfort women issue is resolved finally and irreversibly, on the premise that the government will steadily implement the measures specified.
• Both governments also agreed to refrain from accusing or criticising each other regarding the issue on the international stage, including at the United Nations.
"I am very pleased to declare the successful conclusion of the difficult negotiations before the year is out, the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties," Mr Yun said.
China, which has been deeply critical of what it feels as Japan's lack of atonement for its past military aggression, gave a guarded response yesterday.
"We are aware of relevant reports. The comfort-women issue was a serious inhumane act by Japan during World War II. China has always urged Japan to view correctly and reflect on history, and handle related issues with a responsible attitude," a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said at a briefing.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday offered an apology and acceptance of "deep responsibility" for the treatment of comfort women.
A Philippine lawmaker said the terms of the deal, which also included compensation, would likely be acceptable to the Philippines.
"What is important is that Japan now is willing to accept 'deep responsibility', and to admit that its systematic use of comfort women was a wartime policy it employed, that it was a weapon it used in its imperialist war," said Representative Carlos Isagani Zarate of the Bayan Muna (Nation First) party, which has been helping dozens of Filipinos forced into wartime sex slavery seek justice.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye saw the agreement as a chance to build a new relationship, her office quoted her as saying to Mr Abe.
Amnesty International said the agreement should not mark the end of the road in securing justice. "The women were missing from the negotiation table, and they must not be sold short in a deal that is more about political expediency than justice," said Ms Hiroka Shoji, its East Asia researcher, in a statement.
Madam Lee Yong Soo, 88, one of 46 living South Korean victims, was dissatisfied with the agreement, telling reporters that she would dismiss all of what the foreign ministers agreed. She noted the absence of legal responsibility and requested war crime damages.
The deal, though, is a chance for South Korea and Japan to move on, some commentators said. Both countries needed to improve trade and work with the United States to counter the rise of China and nuclear-armed North Korea.
But in a move that could anger Japan's neighbours, Mr Abe's wife reportedly visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo. According to Kyodo news agency. Mrs Akie Abe detailed the visit in a Facebook post yesterday.
Past visits by Japanese officials to the shrine to Japanese war dead have riled South Korea and China and raised questions about the sincerity of official apologies.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA
• Additional reporting by Raul Dancel in Manila and Kor Kian Beng in Beijing
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