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Editorial: President Moon gov't should recognize importance of comfort women accord

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has announced five-year plans for state affairs, identifying specific challenges in 100 themes his government should work on while he is in office.

Projects relating to the "comfort women" issue, which were incorporated in the plans as part of gender equality promotion policy, have drawn particular attention. Specifically, the South Korean government will establish a "comfort women day" next year, set up a research institute on the issue in 2019, and a historical hall the following year. The Moon government appears to be considering designating Aug. 14 -- the day when former comfort women held a news conference in 1991 and identified themselves by name for the first time -- as comfort women day.

A South Korean organization called the "Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan" in English has urged the selection of Aug. 14.

It is understandable for South Korea to be concerned with its own history. However, special caution should be exercised over the comfort women issue.

If the South Korean government were to comply with the council's request and designate Aug. 14 as comfort women day, it would give momentum to the organization's activities, which run counter to the bilateral agreement with Japan reached in late 2015 to settle the issue. Moreover, the South Korean Foreign Ministry has given the international community the impression that it is opposed to the bilateral agreement by moving to re-examine the accord.

Though the Japanese and South Korean governments have confirmed that the matter has been settled, ill feelings on the matter remain in both countries. If anti-Japan sentiment heightens in South Korea, it will provoke Japanese people's emotions, raising fears that an emotional conflict between the two countries could be revived.

At the same time, the five-year plans call for the development of a future-oriented, mature, and cooperative partnership between the two countries. Under the plans, Seoul will seek to promote cooperation with Tokyo in responding to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs separately from historical issues.

In other words, the Moon government is determined not to follow in the footsteps of the previous Park Geun-hye administration, under which bilateral relations worsened over the comfort women issue.

The 2015 comfort women agreement served as a turning point in Japan-South Korea ties, which had been feared to adversely affect cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea in policy toward North Korea. The agreement forms the basis for such cooperation.

President Moon has not mentioned "renegotiating the agreement" -- one of his election campaign promises -- since he took office. It is an appropriate decision he apparently made while considering the difficulties involving the comfort women issue.

However, projects relating to the comfort women issue, incorporated in the five-year plans, do not show that the South Korean government has given consideration to bilateral ties.

About 70 percent of former comfort women have accepted support under the bilateral agreement. The Moon administration should clarify these facts and try to convince the public of the significance of the bilateral accord.

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