'Comfort women' row with Tokyo not settled despite 2015 deal: Seoul

Participants performing "A Promise Inscribed on an Empty Chair" in Gwanghwamun Square after this year's final weekly rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul yesterday calling for an apology from Japan over the comfort women issue. A report pu
Participants performing "A Promise Inscribed on an Empty Chair" in Gwanghwamun Square after this year's final weekly rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul yesterday calling for an apology from Japan over the comfort women issue. A report published yesterday said the 2015 deal was rushed and did not adequately seek out the opinions of victims.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • A 2015 deal with Japan over South Korean "comfort women" forced to work in Japan's wartime military brothels failed to meet the victims' needs, South Korea said yesterday, throwing ties into doubt as both countries seek to rein in North Korea.

Seoul and Tokyo signed the agreement to settle the hugely emotional and decades-long issue with a Japanese apology and payment of money to survivors.

Following an election pledge, the new government of South Korean President Moon Jae In ordered a review of the unpopular deal which was struck by his now-jailed predecessor Park Geun Hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Yesterday, a task force published a report saying the deal was rushed and did not adequately seek out the opinions of the comfort women, a Japanese euphemism for the women who were forced to work as sex slaves. "The agreement was finalised... without adequately taking into account the opinions of victims in the process of negotiation," the report said.

It added that the issue could not be fundamentally resolved because the victims' demand for Japan's legal compensation had not been met. Tokyo says the matter of compensation for the women was settled under a 1965 treaty with Seoul.

At a news conference, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha apologised for the deal, saying that it hurt the victims and had "failed to reflect the victims' views".

Japan reacted angrily to the panel's report. "If the South Korean government tries to change an agreement that is already being put into practice based on this report, relations between Japan and South Korea will become unmanageable," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said in a statement.

SERIOUS BLOW TO TIES

If the South Korean government tries to change an agreement that is already being put into practice based on this report, relations between Japan and South Korea will become unmanageable.

JAPAN FOREIGN MINISTER TARO KONO

Under the deal, Japan apologised to the former comfort women and provided 1 billion yen (S$11.8 million) to a fund to help them. The two governments also agreed the issue would be "irreversibly resolved" if both fulfilled their obligations.

The task force did not provide policy recommendations but advised the government to seek longer-term solutions to historical matters like the comfort women issue. Its findings will be presented to the government, which will finalise its stance on the matter, with no detailed timetable yet disclosed, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea and Japan are key to international efforts to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes which it pursues in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The comfort women issue has been a regular cause of contention between Japan and neighbours China and North and South Korea since the war. Japan colonised the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and occupied parts of China before and during World War II.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2017, with the headline ''Comfort women' row with Tokyo not settled despite 2015 deal: Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe