SEOUL – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that a bilateral agreement signed in 2015 with Japan about wartime comfort women is defective and cannot resolve the issue.
Moon’s statement came a day after a panel of experts urged the government to revise the agreement, which was signed by the previous Seoul government with Tokyo and has received fierce criticism in South Korea.
“It has been confirmed that the negotiations on the comfort women issue between South Korea and Japan in 2015 had significant defects in terms of procedures and content. (...) It is regrettable but something that we can’t circumvent,” the president said in a statement released by his office.
Moon said the agreement was a political one and excludes the victims themselves and citizens.
He did not clarify if the government will declare the December 2015 pact invalid or seek to renegotiate it with Tokyo, which opposes both actions.
The agreement sought to definitively settle the matter of comfort women for both countries on condition that Tokyo apologized for the abuses committed during its colonization of Korea and allocate 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to a foundation supporting the victims.
However, associations of former comfort women and other voices in South Korean society considered the apology from Japan insufficient and that the government did not take into account the victims of the abuses before reaching the agreement, and called for a revision of the pact.
A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo’s position of seeking sustained implementation of the agreement had not changed, as the government wanted a final and irreversible settlement of the comfort women issue, the Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday.
Another government source said that if South Korea demanded a rewriting of the agreement, it would amount to a country not fulfilling its obligations.
The comments were in line with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kano, who said on Wednesday that a revision of the pact would be totally unacceptable to Tokyo and urged Seoul to abide by what was agreed.
The comfort women problem has raised frequent diplomatic tensions between Tokyo and Seoul and has become the main hurdle in bilateral ties.
An estimated 200,000 young women, primarily Koreans, were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s and during World War II, which ended in 1945.