How to deal with “comfort women” issue New South Korean President Moon pledges renegotiation ―再交渉を公約する韓国新大統領誕生―


The issue of “comfort women”, a euphemism for the Korean women forced into Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, holds the key to improvement of the relationship between Japan and South Korea along with the territorial dispute over Takeshima islets which Koreans call Dokto. Drawing attention in this respect is the inauguration on May 10 of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, 64, who had pledged in his election manifesto to renegotiate the comfort women agreement made by the Japanese and South Korean governments in 2015. Japan has reiterated its position that the accord is not renegotiable. How will the issue evolve in the future?

The Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers came to the surface and developed into a major diplomatic issue about 27 years ago. In August 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono released a statement, acknowledging the Japanese military’s involvement and expressing apologies and remorse on behalf of the Japanese government. In December 2015, then Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se had a round of talks and reached an agreement. The accord, announced at a press conference by the two ministers, stated that: (1) the South Korean government will establish a foundation for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women and the Japanese government will contribute 1 billion yen to its funds, (2) the South Korean government will make an effort to remove the comfort woman statue built in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and (3) the two governments confirm that the comfort women issue is resolved “finally and irreversibly” with this announcement.

The Democratic Party of Korea led by Moon had expressed its objection to the bilateral agreement even before its upset victory in the legislative election held in April 2016. Therefore, Moon had been expected to pledge a renegotiation of the accord in his manifesto during the campaign for the presidential election, which was held in May 2017 after the impeachment and dismissal of President Park Geun-hye.

President Moon sticks to a renegotiation of the comfort women agreement because of Korean citizens’ persistent discontent over the document. According to a poll conducted last December by Korean opinion research agency Realmeter, 59% of the respondents said “the agreement should be renounced”. That largely exceeded 25.5% who said “it should be maintained”. The result suggests that nearly 60% of Korean people are opposed to the accord.

What about Japanese people? A nationwide poll carried out by the Yomiuri Shimbun on May 12-14 showed that 61% of the respondents said “the Japanese government does not need to comply with a Korean government proposal for renegotiation.” Queried on future Japan-Korea relations following the inauguration of the Moon administration, 58% replied “there will be little change” while 23% predicted “the relations will get worse”, indicating that there is a wide perception gap between the two neighboring peoples.

In this situation, Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party, visited Seoul on June 12 for his first talks with President Moon. According to the Korean presidential office, the president stressed the need to renegotiate the agreement on comfort women by telling Nikai, “It is unacceptable to the Korean people, in particular, to former comfort women.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Moon held their first summit on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in July in Hamburg, Germany. However, they reportedly made little headway on the comfort women issue. According to Japanese officials who briefed journalists on their talks, Moon told Abe that the Japan-Korea agreement, made under the Park administration, is “emotionally” unacceptable to many Korean people. In reply, the prime minister was quoted as telling the president that the 2015 accord provides “an indispensable basis for building future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations”. People in both countries are closely watching how the two governments will deal with the contentious issue.

(Written by: Yuto Yawata)


戦時中に日本軍の関与の下で将兵の性の相手を強いられた韓国人女性の問題が明るみにされ、日韓間の外交問題となったのは27年ほど前のこと。この間、1993年8月に日本政府は関与を認め、河野洋平官房長官(当時)のお詫びと反省の談話が出たりするなどの経緯をたどった。2015年12月、日韓両外相が会談し、 ①日本側は元慰安婦を支援する韓国の財団へ10億円を拠出する ②韓国側は在韓国日本大使館前の慰安婦像撤去へ向け努力する ③同問題を最終的かつ不可逆的な解決とする、などで合意、記者発表された。

文氏が代表を務める「共に民主党」は、 2016年4月の議会選挙で劇的な勝利を収めたが、それ以前からこの合意に反対を表明していた。したがって、朴槿恵大統領の罷免・失職を受け今年5月に行われた大統領選挙で文候補が合意再交渉を公約に掲げたのも予期されたことであった。



こうした中、自民党の二階俊博幹事長が6月12日、韓国を訪問し、文大統領と初めて会談。韓国大統領府によると、会談で文大統領は慰安婦問題についての日韓合意について「韓国国民と、誰よりも元慰安婦には受け入れられない」と述べ、日韓慰安婦合意の再交渉の必要性を強調した。安倍首相と文大統領は 7月にドイツ・ハンブルクで開かれたG20会議に出席、その機会に初の首脳会談をおこなったが、慰安婦問題についておおきな進展はなかったようだ。会談について記者団にブリーフィングした日本側関係者によると、文大統領は安倍首相に日韓合意は朴槿恵大統領政権の下で行われたもので、多くの韓国民にとって「感情的に」受け入れがたいものであると伝えた。これに対し、安倍首相は同合意が「未来志向の日韓関係構築に欠かせない基礎をなす」ものである点を強調したという。両国政府が今後この問題をどう処理するか注目される。

(八幡 侑斗)


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