The Yomiuri ShimbunSouth Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha told Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Sept. 11 that Seoul would dissolve the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation (see below), a body set up under an agreement between the Japanese and South Korean governments to assist former comfort women, by the end of this year, sources close to the issue said.
The dissolution will likely render moot the 2015 bilateral accord aimed at resolving the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly.”
The South Korean government had already suggested its intention of dissolving the foundation, but this was the first time that Seoul is known to have given an official notification to Tokyo.
According to the sources, Kang’s notification to Kono took place at a meeting between the two foreign ministers on Sept. 11 in Hanoi, with Kang explicitly stating, “[We] will dissolve the foundation within this year.” After the notification, Kang also told Kono that South Korean President Moon Jae In’s visit to Japan, which has been requested by the Japanese government, “will take place after dissolving the foundation.”
In his response to Kang, Kono told her, “Dissolving the foundation is unacceptable.” Then, Kono urged Moon’s early visit to Tokyo. According to the sources, Kang did not elaborate on a specific date for dissolving the foundation.
On Sept. 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks with Moon in New York in which he urged Moon to steadily implement the Japan-South Korea agreement. Although Moon emphasized in the talks that Seoul has no intention of repealing the agreement, Moon told Abe that he intended to dissolve the foundation within this year.
Regarding the comfort women issue, the Japanese government has taken a stance that the issue has been settled under the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation.
However, upon a request by Seoul seeking a new solution to the issue, the Japanese government and the administration of then South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed in 2015 that Tokyo will carry out humanitarian assistance in such a way that Japan’s legal stance is not undermined.
Since establishing the foundation has been considered the basis of the 2015 agreement, the dissolution is likely to have negative impacts on Japan-South Korea relations.
Abe has placed high priority on the issues of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles as well as Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals. The dissolution of the foundation is also feared to cause disruptions in the trilateral cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea toward resolving the nuclear and abduction issues.
The Japanese government has hoped for Moon’s visit to Japan to be held in October, as the month marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-South Korea Joint Declaration on Oct. 8, 1998. However, it is quite uncertain when Moon’s visit to Japan will be held because there has been no progress in adjusting the schedule for the visit between the two governments, the sources said.
The Japanese government plans to keep urging Seoul to change its plan to dissolve the foundation.
■The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation
The foundation was established by the South Korean government in July 2016 based on an agreement between Japanese and South Korean governments in December 2015. The purpose of the foundation is to carry out projects aiming at restoring the honor and dignity of former comfort women and healing their emotional wounds. The Japanese government provided ¥1 billion for the fund of the foundation. About 70 percent of former comfort women who were alive at the time when the deal was signed have received 100 million won (about ¥10 million) each. However, the foundation’s operations have recently been dormant partly because some of the former comfort women have refused to accept the funds.Speech