TOKYO–Japan plans to propose a fresh fund to support former comfort women as foreign ministers from Tokyo and Seoul meet next week to settle a bitter row over a Japanese wartime brothel system, reports said Saturday. The one-day meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, will be held in Seoul on Monday, officials have said. The ministers are to discuss “matters of mutual concern” such as the issue of women systematically forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II. The Japanese government is considering creating a new fund of about 100 million yen (US$830,000) to help former comfort women, the Mainichi daily reported, while other media said the sum would be larger than that. Tokyo also plans to propose that the two countries sign a statement confirming that the issue of comfort women is settled completely, the Mainichi and other Japanese newspapers reported. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is aiming for a resolution of the lingering issue that has overshadowed diplomatic relations between the two East Asian U.S. allies. Japan issued a landmark 1993 statement that expressed “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women “who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.” But it has long maintained that the dispute was settled in a 1965 normalization agreement with South Korea, which saw Tokyo make a total payment of US$800 million in grants or loans to its former colony. In its Saturday editorial, Japan’s conservative Sankei daily called on the government to maintain that the dispute was settled in the 1965 agreement and assure that South Korea stop “rehashing” the issue as a diplomatic card. Seoul is demanding a fresh formal apology and compensation for the Korean women.
The fate of the comfort women is a hugely emotional issue in Korea and a source of much of the distrust that has marred relations between Seoul and Tokyo for decades.