South Korea to abide by 2015 ‘comfort women’ deal: Foreign Ministry

South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha bows during a briefing on the 2015 South Korea-Japan agreement over South Korea's "comfort women" issue at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on January 9, 2018. JungYeon-Je/pool/AFP
South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-Wha bows during a briefing on the 2015 South Korea-Japan agreement over South Korea's "comfort women" issue at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on January 9, 2018. JungYeon-Je/pool/AFP

by Ock Hyun-ju

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The South Korean government said Tuesday that it will retain the 2015 Korea-Japan deal on Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement, but reiterated that the controversial deal failed to resolve the “comfort women” issue.

Mindful of the impact South Korea’s withdrawal from the deal could have on its relations with Japan and its diplomatic credibility, the Foreign Ministry said it would neither seek to renegotiate nor scrap the deal. The government will also not return the funds, which were offered by Japan to the victims of its wartime sex slavery.

“We cannot deny that the 2015 deal was an official bilateral agreement. Given that, the government will not demand Japan renegotiate the deal,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a press briefing. “But we expect Japan to continue to make efforts to restore victims’ honour and dignity, and heal the wounds of the victims according to international human rights standards.”

She added, “The 2015 deal which does not reflect victims’ opinions cannot be a fundamental solution to the issue.”

The announcement comes less than two weeks after a task force found that the deal, signed by former President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had procedural problems. President Moon Jae-in said the deal failed to tackle the issue and called it “gravely flawed.”

In the deal — described by the two countries as “final and irreversible” — Japan offered funds to a foundation and apology to the surviving victims in return for Seoul’s promise not to raise the issue again in international forums.

Some rights groups and victims have called for the abolishment of the deal made on Dec. 28, 2015 between Seoul and Tokyo and the return of the funds provided by Japan, saying the deal failed to reflect the victims’ demands for a sincere apology and legal compensation from the Japanese government.

The ministry said it will assign 10.8 billion won in the government budget to conduct follow-up measures, separate from the fund of 10.8 billion won paid by the Japanese government into a Korean government-run foundation.

Reflecting President Moon‘s two-track approach toward Japan, separating historical from current issues, the ministry reiterated it will continue to seek to “harmoniously” and “peacefully” resolve the historical issues and at the same time pursue a future-oriented relationship with Japan.

Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women remains a key source of diplomatic dispute between South Korea and Japan. According to historians, up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, are estimated to have been forced into sexual servitude at Japan’s front-line brothels during World War II. Japan colonised Korea from 1910-45.