South Korean president to meet former comfort women amid row with Japan

January 4, 2018 - 11:47 AM
South Korea's President Moon Jae-In. (Reuters)

SEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae-in will on Thursday meet women who were forced to work in Japanese wartime brothels, days after their plight has again cast a shadow over ties between South Korea and Japan.

A South Korean panel set up to investigate a 2015 agreement with Japan on the thousands of girls and women forced to work in Japan’s military brothels, euphemistically termed “comfort women” by Japan, said the deal failed to meet their needs.

Moon said the 2015 deal, under which Japan apologized to victims and provided 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) to a fund to help them, was seriously flawed. Japan said any attempt to revise it could damage relations.

Moon’s office, known as the Blue House, said the president would meet a group of the women for lunch. It did not say how many of them.

The South Korean president is expected to gauge their reaction to his government’s position on the deal with Japan.

South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean women forced to work in the brothels.

There are 32 of them registered with a South Korean civic group set up to look after their rights.

It will be the second time former “comfort women” will visit the Blue House during Moon’s presidency after one was invited to a dinner when U.S. President Donald Trump visited in November.

Moon’s announcement on the Japanese deal last week raised consternation in Japan, where media reported said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may decide not to visit South Korea for the Winter Olympics there next month.

Strained ties come as the U.S. allies are trying to cooperate on security in the face of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

But their bitter history, including Japanese colonization of the Korean peninsula and the issue of the women, has regularly been a source of rancor between them as some Japanese ultra-conservatives deny that women were forced to work in brothels.

Moon came to power in May after the removal of his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hye, whose conservative government was criticized for failing to fully consult victims over the 2015 settlement.