(From Kyodo/Japan Times)
Japan plans to demand South Korea remove the “comfort woman” statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul as part of any agreement to resolve the bilateral dispute over wartime history, government sources said Sunday.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may consider expanding support to Korean women who worked in wartime brothels for the Japanese military after obtaining a firm promise that the statue will be removed, the sources said.
The 1.2-meter-tall statue of a girl was erected in 2011, and the monument has since been what a source with the prime minister’s office described as “a headache” for Japan.
Japan believes the statue’s removal will send a message of reconciliation, as differing views of wartime history have been one of the impediments to improving bilateral ties.
Tokyo is also expected to call for the removal of similar statues erected elsewhere in South Korea, the sources said.
Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, when they met earlier this month for their first one-on-one talks since taking office, agreed to resolve the comfort women issue as soon as possible, and Park has urged Japan to present a solution that is “acceptable to the victims and deemed reasonable by the Korean people.”
However, during talks Wednesday between diplomats from the two countries, South Korea rejected Japan’s demand that the statue be removed.
Japan has maintained that everything to do with compensation was settled under the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.
The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
One idea floated within the Japanese government and the ruling parties is to expand medical and welfare support to former comfort women that has been extended since fiscal 2008, according to the sources. In the fiscal 2014 budget, Japan allocated around ¥13 million.
Some within the Abe administration view the statue in Seoul, if left standing, will spread the misperception that Japan as a whole was repeatedly involved in criminal acts during the war.
“If South Korea is serious about solving the issue, it too should make efforts,” a source within the prime minister’s office said.
Still, there is also a possibility that Japan’s stance will give South Korea a reason to criticize Tokyo for not having atoned enough for the past, observers said, at a time when the United States is calling for improved ties between Tokyo and Seoul.