South Korea says deal flawed, but Japan warns against change

SEOUL: South Korean President Moon Jae-In said on Thursday that a 2015 agreement with Japan over South Korean “comfort women” forced to work in wartime brothels was seriously flawed after Japan said any attempt to revise it could damage relations.
A South Korean panel set up to investigate the deal concluded on Wednesday that it failed to meet the needs of the thousands of girls and women forced to work in Japan’s military brothels, many of them Korean, euphemistically termed “comfort women” by Japan.
The announcement threw ties into doubt as both countries, important US allies, seek to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
“The agreement cannot solve the comfort women issue,” Moon said, calling the deal a “political agreement that excludes victims and the public” and violates general principles in international society, according to a statement issued by his office.
A Japanese foreign ministry spokeswoman said Japan had conveyed its position to South Korea through diplomatic channels following Moon’s remarks, reiterating Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s comment on Wednesday that any attempt to change the deal would be “unacceptable” and make relations “unmanageable”.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed Japanese government source as saying it had now become difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit South Korea in time for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February, in a potential sign of chilling ties.
Four years ago, Abe took a trip to Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games there and held talks with President Vladimir Putin.
Asked if Moon meant to declare the deal null and void, Park Soo-Hyun, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House, said it was “inappropriate” for him to use that term at this point, adding the government would present its “final position”.
Under the 2015 deal, Japan apologised to victims and provided 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to a fund to help them.
The two governments had agreed the issue would be “irreversibly resolved” if both fulfilled their obligations.
Moon pledged to normalise relations and work towards “future-oriented cooperation” with Japan.
Japan’s Nikkei business daily on Thursday quoted Abe as telling people close to him that the agreement “will not be changed by even one millimetre”.
“Regardless of the Japanese government’s stance, we take the investigation results seriously and humbly,” South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-Deok told a news briefing. — Reuters