TOKYO: Japanese and South Korean officials on Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to setting up a ¥1 billion ($9.14 million) fund to assist former “comfort women.”
The girls and young women forced to work in wartime Imperial military brothels are now elderly and in dwindling numbers.
Kimihiro Ishikane, director-general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, met with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Byung-won, director-general for Northeast Asian affairs at the South Korean Foreign Ministry, to discuss progress.
Under a bilateral pact reached at the end of last year, Seoul is supposed to set up a foundation to distribute ¥1 billion provided by the Japanese government to the former sex slaves. Seoul has said it will create the foundation as early as June, but on Tuesday Chung stopped short of giving a date.
“We will set it as soon as possible,” he told reporters after the meeting. “Both governments are working together to recover the honor and dignity and heal the psychological wounds of the grandmothers.”
The dispute over the wartime sex slaves has long strained bilateral relations. Still, both parties have adhered so far to the agreement, which promises to settle the matter once and for all. One of its provisions is that the two sides cannot exchange barbs over the wartime episode.
Officials from the two countries discussed the matter at a meeting last month in Seoul of vice foreign ministers and at a separate meeting there of director-general-level officials.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and other officials have hailed a major recent improvement in bilateral relations. Still, uncertainty remains over the implementation of the agreement at a time when the power base of President Park Geun-hye has weakened. Her Saenuri Party suffered a landslide defeat in last month’s parliamentary election.
Lee Byung-kee, Park’s chief of staff, tendered his resignation on Sunday, apparently taking responsibility for the drubbing. Lee is seen as the chief architect of the comfort women agreement.
But on Monday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Lee’s exit does not affect the implementation of the agreement.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether a statue of a girl symbolizing the young victims that stands outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul will be removed. At the time of the agreement last year, Seoul said it would try to resolve the issue, but it has not yet announced progress on this matter.