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34 out of 46 ‘comfort women’ evaluate the deal positively

Dec 28,2016
Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the breakthrough deal between Seoul and Tokyo concerning the victims of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, euphemistically referred to as comfort women, and one year later, feelings still remain mixed.

Since the agreement was struck on Dec. 28, 2015, 34 victims of the Imperial Japanese Army’s forced recruitment of young women into sexual slavery during World War II have agreed to accept the funds provided by Tokyo, managed by a Seoul-based foundation.

“The government holds in regard that over the past one year, through the establishment of the foundation and thoroughly carrying out its projects, the agreement is faithfully being implemented,” said Cho June-hyuck, the spokesman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a briefing in Seoul Tuesday, a day ahead of the anniversary. “Of the 46 victims surviving at the time the deal was struck, 34 have evaluated the agreement positively.”

He continued, “The government will put great effort, centered on this foundation, to restore the honor and dignity of the victims and heal the wounds in their hearts as soon as possible.”

After a year and eight months of nearly monthly working-level negotiations, the two countries’ foreign ministries finally struck a “final and irreversible” agreement on Dec. 28, 2015, to resolve the comfort women issue, which included an apology from the Japanese prime minister and a plan to establish a 1 billion yen ($8.53 million) fund for the victims, to be taken from Japan’s state budget.

The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation was launched in Seoul in late July, and Tokyo completed the transfer of the 1 billion yen to the foundation at the beginning of September.

So far, the foundation has provided 29 victims with up to 100 million won ($82,700) and will provide shares of the fund to two others within the year.

But there are still some elderly survivors and civic organizations who refuse to acknowledge the deal, calling for the Japanese government to take clearer legal responsibility and for the agreement to be scrapped.

They are also skeptical about the sincerity of Tokyo’s apology, citing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remark in October that he “is not at all considering” issuing an apology letter to the comfort women victims. There is also criticism of Tokyo’s insistence on the removal of the iconic statue of a girl representing comfort women victims in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The Korean government maintains that the issue of the comfort women statue is up to the civic organizations who erected it. There were 245 comfort women victims who registered with the Korean government, and only 46 survivors on the date of the signing of the bilateral agreement. That number is now down to 39 survivors.

While there is a consensus that the agreement is not ideal, government officials of both countries have said it has led to improved relations after years of strained diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

The number of Korean and Japanese travelers to their respective nations has also seen a recent increase. The 17 millionth visitor to Korea was a 46-year-old Japanese women on Tuesday afternoon, who arrived at Gimpo International Airport. While Japanese tourists have declined after relations soured since 2012, that number has been on the rise again over the past year. The number of Japanese who visited Korea increased by 29.5 percent in November compared to the same month the previous year, while the number of Koreans who visited Japan increased by 18.6 percent, according to the Foreign Ministry.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]