Seoul seeks talks over 'comfort women'; Tokyo says issue settled

September 16, 2011

South Korea on Sept. 15 formally requested government discussions on compensating former Korean "comfort women," but the Japanese side quickly responded by saying the issue has already been settled.

Cho Sei-young, the director-general of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau at South Korea's Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry, summoned Nobukatsu Kanehara from the Japanese Embassy and made the request.

Cho cited a ruling in late August by South Korea's Constitutional Court that said the former comfort women's basic rights were violated by the failure of the South Korean government to enter negotiations with Japan over the right of individuals to seek compensation.

A 1965 agreement, which was part of negotiations that led to the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two nations, said the issue of the right to seek compensation had been resolved completely and finally.

South Korean government officials argue that the issue was not part of the agreement because the issue of comfort women was not negotiated thoroughly in the past.

At a Sept. 15 news conference in Tokyo, Tsuyoshi Yamaguchi, senior vice minister for foreign affairs, said Japanese officials had informed their South Korean counterparts of Japan's position that the issue was already resolved.

Yamaguchi also pointed to the Asian Women's Fund established by the government in 1995 but funded through the private sector. The fund was dissolved in 2007 after paying out condolence money to former comfort women.

"There may have been an effect from the fact that many South Korean refused to accept that money," Yamaguchi said.

Even if the two governments decided to hold discussions, an agreement over the issue is highly unlikely.

South Korean officials are considering setting up an arbitration committee that would include representatives of other nations.

(This article was written by Akira Nakano and Ai Matsumura.)

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