ROK must expand people’s support to implement ‘comfort women’ deal
It can be said that a first step has been taken for implementation of a deal reached by the Japanese and South Korean governments in late December on the so-called comfort women issue. We want to see how the administration of President Park Geun-hye will follow through.
A preparatory committee has been established in South Korea to set up a foundation to support former comfort women based on the bilateral accord.
The Japanese government will provide ¥1 billion for the foundation to be established by the South Korean government. The purpose of the foundation is said to be “to restore the honor and dignity of former comfort women and heal their emotional wounds.” The foundation will be required to embody the aims of the bilateral deal.
Chaired by Kim Tae Hyeon, an honorary professor at Sungshin Women’s University and an expert on women’s issues, the committee consists of 11 members, including former Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan and a scholar on Japanese affairs. The panel will compile assistance programs for the former comfort women, and the foundation is scheduled to be set up as early as this month.
During a recent news conference, Kim stressed a policy of respecting the intentions of former comfort women in carrying out assistance programs, saying, “We’d like to become sympathetic from our hearts to the pains of the victims [former comfort women] and meet their requests.”
It took more than five months before the preparatory committee was established. Behind the delay could be the Park administration’s wish to avoid having the comfort women issue become a point of contention in the general election that was held in April and evade the possibility of a barrage of criticism by opposition parties.
Given the stunning election defeat of her ruling party, the pressure on her administration’s governance has been mounting.
No more time for delay
The Minjoo Party of Korea, a leftist opposition group that is now the biggest force in the National Assembly, has denounced the Japan-South Korea deal on the comfort women issue as making no mention of Japan’s legal responsibility and has called for holding negotiations again on the matter. A South Korean group assisting the former comfort women has been strongly opposing the inauguration of the preparatory committee.
Of concern is that the South Korean people’s understanding of the bilateral accord on the comfort women issue is not sufficient. According to a joint public opinion survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Hankook Ilbo, 73 percent of South Korean respondents did not support the comfort women deal.
The deal was worked out as a result of mutual concessions by Tokyo and Seoul. True, it triggered a chance for the two countries to restore strained bilateral relations. The Park administration has reportedly received an increasing amount of affirmative responses to the deal in interviews with the former comfort women.
Forty-six former comfort women remained alive when the deal was hammered out last December. But four of them have since died. Delay in assistance programs can no longer be allowed.
It is essential for the Park administration to tenaciously seek to obtain the people’s understanding of its accord with Tokyo on the comfort women issue and strive to enable the foundation to function smoothly.
As for a Japanese request for the removal of a statue of a girl installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean government has pledged “to work toward resolving the matter appropriately.”
It should not be forgotten that the matter is gravely related to securing the peace and safety as well as the dignity of the embassy. South Korean organizations, including one that installed the statue, object to its removal, but it is also important for the South Korean government to induce them to remove the statue in line with progress in implementation of what has been agreed upon in the deal.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2016)