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Japan, S. Korea ties remain frosty 5 yrs after 'comfort women' deal

This file photo taken on Nov. 23, 2020, shows a statue in Berlin symbolizing Korean women who were procured for Japan's wartime military brothels. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan and South Korea marked on Monday the fifth anniversary of their agreement to resolve the issue of Korean women forced into Japanese wartime military brothels, but their relationship remains far from the "future-oriented" they had hoped for at the time.

    The agreement, struck between the governments of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye in 2015, was hailed as a landmark deal as the two sides were to "finally and irreversibly" settle the "comfort women" issue, a longtime source of friction between the two neighbors.

    The accord includes Japan's acknowledgement of "responsibilities" for the suffering of the women, Abe's "most sincere apologies and remorse" to them and Japan's contribution of 1 billion yen ($9.66 million) to a fund to be set up by the South Korean government to provide support for the surviving victims.

    South Korea said it "will strive to resolve" Japan's concern about a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women in front of the Japanese Embassy in its capital, and that Seoul will refrain from accusing or criticizing Tokyo over the comfort women issue in the international community, including at the United Nations.

    But the two sides today remain at loggerheads over the implementation of the deal.

    Japan criticizes the administration of President Moon Jae In, inaugurated in 2017, for allowing the installation of statues symbolizing the comfort women, now counting around 140 across the globe including the one in Seoul as a move going against the spirit of the agreement.

    Tokyo is also concerned about the Moon administration's reassessment in December 2017 that the deal fails to properly reflect the wishes of the victims and does not constitute a true resolution of the issue.

    South Korea also dissolved the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, the fund set up under the agreement, triggering Japan's fierce opposition.

    "The comfort women agreement was an accord between countries. Even if the administration changes, both governments have the responsibilities to implement the deal," Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference on Friday.

    "The agreement has been highly praised by the international community including the United States and its steady implementation is South Korea's duty toward international society," Motegi said.

    Another dispute, stemming from South Korea's top court rulings in 2018 ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to Koreans who worked for them during World War II, is adding another layer of difficulties to the bilateral relationship.

    Japan said the rulings "clearly violate" their agreement signed in 1965 that settled all issues concerning properties and claims related to its 1910-1945 colonial rule of what is now South Korea.

    Tokyo urges Seoul to take action to prevent the imposition of damages against Japanese companies as court proceedings are under way to seize and liquidate their assets in South Korea to compensate Koreans for wartime labor.

    Moon, meanwhile, says he respects the judicial decision. He had looked to host a summit between South Korea, Japan and China this year but the event is likely to be postponed amid sour Tokyo-Seoul ties over the wartime labor issue.

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