South Korean President Park Geun-hye expressed hope Monday that South Korea and Japan will build confidence and start bilateral relations anew based on a landmark deal on the comfort women.
South Korea and Japan “should use the agreement as a precious opportunity to restore honor and dignity” to the comfort women and heal their scars, Park said in a telephone conversation with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea’s presidential office.
In the 13-minute conversation, Abe also expressed an apology and repentance from the heart to all those who as comfort women experienced much pain and bore scars that are difficult to heal on their bodies and souls.
The phone conversation came hours after South Korea and Japan produced a deal that ended the longstanding dispute over Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II — one of the thorniest diplomatic issues between the two neighbors.
The deal centered on Japan’s admission of responsibility for the wartime crime and plans to pay reparations to former Korean sex slaves for Japan’s World War II soldiers.
The issue has gained urgency in recent years as the victims are dying off. In 2007, more than 120 South Korean victims were alive, but the number has since dropped to 46, with their average age standing at nearly 90.
Under the deal, Japan agreed to offer 1 billion yen (US$8.3 million) in reparations to the victims through a fund to be created by the South Korean government.
South Korea vowed to end the dispute once and for all if Japan fulfills its responsibilities. It also agreed to work on addressing Tokyo’s demands that the statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women be removed from outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Abe also told Park that Japan will faithfully carry out a project to restore the honor and dignity of comfort women and heal their scars, noting the deal is the final solution to the issue of comfort women and it is irreversible.
South Korea and Japan are close economic partners and key allies of the United States, though they have long been in conflict over territory and other historical disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
Park and Abe also agreed to closely cooperate on the improvement and development of bilateral relations.