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Japan to ask new S. Korean administration to stick to accord on 'comfort women'

Japan plans to request that the administration of newly elected South Korean President Moon Jae-in stick to a 2015 agreement reached between the Japanese and South Korean governments on the issue of wartime "comfort women."

In a May 9 news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated, "The agreement is something promised between the Japanese and South Korean governments, and is highly evaluated in international society. We'll remain steadfast in requesting that it be implemented."

The accord reached in December 2015 confirmed a "final and irreversible" resolution to the comfort women issue. The Japanese government therefore has no intention of renegotiating it. Under the agreement, Seoul said that it would make efforts to resolve the issue of a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women that Japan wants removed from in front of its embassy in Seoul. However, the statue remains there, and after the agreement was reached, another statue of a girl was placed in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan.

Japan, meanwhile, has already transferred 1 billion yen to a foundation set up by the South Korean government to aid comfort women, as agreed upon. One Japanese government source commented, "If the agreement is broken, it is South Korea that will be criticized. Japan is in a superior position." The comment represents the firm stance that dominates within the Japanese government.

Speaking to reporters, Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians' Union, congratulated Moon on his election victory, then stated, "Renegotiation of the agreement is unthinkable. If something like that happened, relations between the two countries would be broken."

The Japanese government has been wary of the fact that major candidates in the recent presidential election in South Korea called to renegotiate or annul the agreement. The Japanese government underscored the legitimacy of the pact with the involvement of the United States, but it appears the effect of these moves on the presidential election was limited.

In a stump speech in the southeastern city of Daegu on May 8, the final day of his election campaigning, Moon stated that he would persuade Japan with pressure that the comfort women agreement was wrong. And in his campaign pledge, he stated that he would request renegotiation of the accord.

However, Moon does not want excessive deterioration of relations with Japan, and on April 28, his diplomatic advisory group held talks with Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine and informed him that Moon wants to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at an early stage.

A proposal has emerged among those close to Moon to "inspect" the 2015 bilateral accord for the time being and limit the effects on Japan-South Korea relations to the smallest degree possible. Kim Gi-jong, a professor at Yonsei University who has advised Moon on diplomatic issues, said that after the accord is inspected, a decision would probably be made on whether to renegotiate the agreement or to solve the issue as a follow-up measure to the accord without using the term "renegotiation." The comment shows a degree of consideration for Japan, which resists renegotiation, but there is no clear path for the Japanese government to engage in discussion.

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