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S. Korea not to seek renegotiation of 'comfort women' deal with Japan

Cption South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha speaks during a briefing on the 2015 South Korea-Japan agreement over South Korea's "comfort women" issue at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on Jan. 9, 2018. (Jung Yeon-Je/Pool Photo via AP)

SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korea announced Tuesday it will not seek to renegotiate the two-year-old deal with Japan on "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, acknowledging it as an official agreement between the two countries.

    Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said, however, that the South Korean government plans to match the 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) provided by the Japanese government under the deal with its own contribution, and discuss what to do with the Japanese contribution.

    Seoul's new policy on the deal, struck under the previous administration of ousted President Park Geun Hye, comes less than two weeks after President Moon Jae In called the agreement "seriously flawed."

    The announcement drew a swift response from the Japanese government, with Foreign Minister Taro Kono saying in Tokyo that Japan "cannot accept" the new South Korean policy and that steadily implementing the existing deal is "both countries' duty to the international community."

    Kono had previously warned that seeking to review the deal would leave bilateral relations "unmanageable."

    The dispute over "comfort women" -- a euphemism used to refer to women mostly from Asian countries who worked in brothels built to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II -- has been one of the major issues that have strained ties between Tokyo and Seoul for years.

    Under the deal announced by the foreign ministers of the two countries in December 2015, Japan provided 1 billion yen to a South Korean foundation to support Korean victims, while South Korea agreed to "make efforts" to remove a statue symbolizing comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. That bronze, life-size statue, of a girl in traditional Korean dress remains in place.

    The deal, however, has proven controversial among the victims and the South Korean public who felt the victims' voices were ignored, and that Japan's fresh apology over the issue was inadequate.

    Some of the victims have called for South Korea to return the money to Japan, prompting the South Korean government's Tuesday announcement that it will contribute the same amount of money, while planning to discuss with Tokyo what to do with the Japanese contribution already made.

    Of the 47 former comfort women who were still alive when the agreement was reached, 36 of them or their bereaved families have received or indicated their intent to receive the funds.

    In formulating a new policy on the deal, South Korea placed emphasis on restoring normal diplomatic relations with Japan for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, in addition to the restoration of honor and dignity of the victims, Kang said Tuesday.

    "There is no denying the 2015 agreement is an official one between the two countries, and thus our government would not demand the Japanese government renegotiate the agreement," she said.

    She said, however, that South Korea "expects Japan to acknowledge the truth as it is in line with the universal standard, and continue to make efforts to restore honor and dignity of the victims and heal wounds in their minds."

    She stressed what the victims really want is a "voluntary and genuine apology."

    South Korea would continue to work toward resolving issues related to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and also for future-oriented cooperation with Japan, she said.

    The Moon government, inaugurated in May, launched a task force under the foreign minister in July to review the process that led to the deal, arguing that the majority of the South Korean public do not approve of it.

    On Dec. 27, the task force said in a report that the Park government failed to sufficiently consult with former comfort women before agreeing to the deal with Japan.

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