Japan to give $11.7 million to new foundation to support former comfort women

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se (right) and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida (left).
PHOTO: Reuters

Japan and South Korea on Monday reached a deal over the long-standing issue of so-called comfort women, with both sides confirming that the issue will be resolved finally and irreversibly.

At a joint announcement after their talks at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung Se, said the new deal will "finally and irreversibly" resolve the issue, based on the premise of a new foundation that South Korea will establish to support former comfort women. Kishida said Japan will provide a lump sum of about ¥1 billion (S$11.7 million) to the foundation.

The Japanese and South Korean governments will co-operate in this joint project to redeem the dignity and honour of all former comfort women and heal their mental scars, he said.

"The honour and dignity of many women was harmed under the involvement of the military at that time, and the Japanese government is keenly aware of its responsibility," Kishida said. He added that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will "again express an apology and remorse to those who, as comfort women, experienced so much pain and suffered damage to their minds and bodies that is hard to heal."

Japan had been urging South Korea to give assurances that it will never revive the comfort women issue.

Abe told reporters later in the evening that he spoke with South Korean President Park Geun-hye over the telephone and confirmed that the two countries had reached a deal on the issue.

When speaking to the press, the prime minister referred to his comments in a statement issued in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that past cabinets had expressed apologies and remorse over the issue. That stance remains unchanged, Abe said.

Referring to the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women that was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Yun said, "South Korea recognises that Japan has concerns about the statue and will make efforts to resolve this issue appropriately through negotiations with the relevant organisation."

Japan had insisted that the statue contravenes the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which stipulates that a host country must protect diplomatic missions such as embassies. Japan wants similar statues in the United States to be removed as well and had asked the South Korean side to refrain from taking any other actions to defame Japan, such as trying to add materials related to comfort women to UNESCO's Memory of the World list.

Kishida and Yun agreed that the two countries will refrain from denouncing or criticising each other over the issue in international forums such as the United Nations.

Kishida also expressed hope for improved bilateral ties, saying he is confident that Japan-South Korea relations will enter a new era. In response, Yun said, "I'm glad that we can declare the conclusion of the [so-called comfort women] issue by finishing the extremely difficult negotiations conducted so far by the end of this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalisation of diplomatic ties."

"I sincerely hope that we can open up a new relationship from next year," Yun said.

Kishida paid a courtesy call on Park.

Kishida told reporters at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul that Japan's position regarding the rights to property and claims for compensation between the two countries remains unchanged. He emphasised that the funds to be provided to the envisioned foundation did not constitute compensation.

Japan maintains that the issue of compensation, including that related to comfort women, was completely and finally settled under the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea.

Gist of Japan-ROK announcement

The South Korean government will establish a new foundation to support former comfort women, to which the Japanese government will provide about ¥1 billion.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will again express feelings of apology and remorse to former comfort women.

South Korea recognises Japan's concerns over the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and will make efforts to resolve this issue appropriately.

Both sides confirm that the issue of so-called comfort women will be resolved finally and irreversibly.

Both sides will refrain from denouncing each other over the issue in international forums such as the United Nations.