South Korea said Tuesday that it will not seek renegotiation of a controversial 2015 deal it reached with Japan to settle long-running feud over former comfort women forced into sexual servitude for Japanese troops during World War II.
The Seoul government said that it will also set aside its own money to help the victims heal their wounds and recover their dignity, instead of using the fund that Japan contributed to under the agreement.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha unveiled those plans during a press conference in Seoul as a follow-up to a recent government conclusion that the deal was flawed and sufficient efforts were not made to reflect the views and opinions of victims before it was reached between the neighbors.
"It cannot be denied that the 2015 deal was an official agreement reached between the governments of each country, and our government will not demand renegotiation," Kang said in a prepared statement.
"We still expect Japan to accept the truth in accordance with universally accepted standards and keep making efforts to recover their dignity and heal the wounds in their minds... What the victims consistently want is a voluntary and sincere apology," she added.
The measures were announced after a government task force, which was launched after President Moon Jae-in took office in May, concluded late last year that the previous government of ousted President Park Geun-hye failed to make sufficient efforts to listen to the surviving former comfort women.
Moon criticized the deal as gravely flawed, saying it cannot resolve the comfort women issue. Kang earlier vowed to listen to all of the victims before finalizing the government's stance on the controversial deal, leading to speculation that the government could seek to renegotiate it.
Under the deal reached on Dec. 28, 2015, the neighbors agreed to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the comfort women issue. Tokyo apologized for its colonial-era atrocities and pledged 1 billion yen (US$8.9 million) to a foundation dedicated to supporting the victims.
The deal, however, prompted strong criticism from victims and civic groups who claim that Japan's apology was not sincere enough and that the government did not consult with them in advance. Some call for renegotiating or even scrapping the deal.
"Our government will explore victims-centered measures by gathering opinions from the victims and related organizations," Kang said. "We will also set aside money that will replace the 1 billion yen that the Japanese government gave under the deal and have consultations with Japan on how to handle the (existing) fund going forward."
According to the government, about 40 percent of Japan's contributed money has been accepted by victims.
The government's latest announcement highlights a dilemma that it has faced in handling the comfort women deal reached by the previous administration. The government is attempting to strike a balance where it does not damage bilateral relations with Japan by amending or withdrawing from the deal, but at the same time does not commit to implementing all of the agreement's terms.
Japan rejected South Korea's demand for more efforts to support the former comfort women.
Following the announcement in Seoul, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters in Tokyo that Japan cannot accept the demand from South Korea. He earlier warned against any attempt to revise the deal, saying it could make their bilateral relations "unmanageable."
South Korea has said that it will take a "two-track" approach in which it will approach the historical issue separately from diplomatic and economic relations.
"What the victims consistently want is a voluntary and sincere apology. Our stance is that we will welcome the Japanese government showing sincerity on its own initiative in helping the victims regain dignity and heal their wounds," Noh Kyu-duk, foreign ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing. (Yonhap News)