December 29, 2015 11:00
Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Monday produced a statement that to some extent concedes Japanese responsibility for drafting women as sex slaves for soldiers during World War II.
The statement, which also contains words of regret from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, follows talks on the question of compensating the former sex slaves, who were mostly Korean, and marks a small but significant step in settling the issue.
For 24 years since victim Kim Hak-soon first went public with her ordeal in an interview with Japan's Asahi Shimbun, the issue has bedeviled Korea-Japan relations at every turn and is unlikely to be settled in a day.
Monday's statement sticks to the Japanese line that, even if the Imperial Army bore direct responsibility for rounding up the women, any claims they may have had were "finally and irreversibly" settled under a 1965 treaty, despite its failure to clarify Japan's "legal responsibility."
Japanese rightwingers variously claim the women were voluntary prostitutes or that the Imperial Army was supplied with the victims by private operators, so Tokyo would be in the clear either way. In fact, documentary evidence points persuasively to the orders coming from the top.
Kishida told reporters his government "is painfully aware of responsibilities... Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse..."
In a telephone conversation with President Park Geun-hye, Abe repeated the gist of his apology. By diplomatic sleight of hand the apology was not issued public by Abe in person but funneled through the foreign minister.
Still, it was the Abe administration's most complete admission so far of some sort of responsibility for the atrocity, even though it left plenty of wriggle room in terms of which entity or persons are to blame.
Japan also agreed to cough up 1 billion yen (about W10 billion) from its coffers to support the sex slavery victims, whatever the 1965 treaty may say. But Kishida was quick to deny to the Japanese press that the extra payment amounts to "legal compensation," which would risk setting a precedent.
A Korean government official put a positive spin on the development, saying "Japan admitted legal responsibility in fact," if not in finer points of the law.
But victims and the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan denounced the agreement as a double blow from both governments, and a case of "diplomatic collusion that dampens people's hopes."
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