Back To Top

Seoul, Tokyo discuss fate of controversial foundation

Vice foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan discussed the issue of a Japanese-funded foundation for South Korean victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery at a meeting in Tokyo on Thursday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun met with his Japanese counterpart Takeo Akiba on Thursday on his two-day visit to Tokyo to exchange views on South Korea-Japan relations and their shared goal of the denuclearization of North Korea, the ministry said.

The meeting came amid a dispute over Seoul’s push to disband the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, established as a result of the 2015 deal to support South Korean victims of Japan’s sexual enslavement during World War II. 
“At the meeting, vice ministers of the countries exchanged views on South Korea-Japan relations in general, including the issue of the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

Last month, President Moon Jae-in signaled the possible dissolution of the foundation at his summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, citing calls for its disbandment from the victims and the public.

Tokyo, however, has urged Seoul to abide by the 2015 agreement, saying an attempt to challenge the deal could harm bilateral ties.

The Foreign Ministry did not reveal whether the two sides reached any agreement during the vice-ministerial meeting. The decision on what to do with the foundation and the remaining funds is likely to be announced early next month, Gender Minister Jin Sun-mi told reporters on Wednesday.

The “comfort women” issue remains a source of tension between South Korea and Japan, despite the 2015 deal signed under the Park Geun-hye administration. Under the deal, Japan apologized to the victims and provided 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to the foundation in return for South Korea’s promise not to raise the issue again at international forums. The two countries described the deal as “final and irreversible.”

Some South Korean victims and their advocates, however, have repeatedly called for the dissolution of the foundation, demanding Japan instead issue a sincere apology and recognize legal responsibility for its wrongdoing.

Last year, the Moon administration concluded that the 2015 agreement was “flawed” and said it could not fully resolve the “comfort women” issue. It sought to return the money to Japan and use the government budget to support the victims.

Despite a continued row over historical issues between South Korea and Japan, the two countries are seeking to enhance cooperation in ongoing efforts to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“The two sides also discussed progress on denuclearization of North Korea and a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said.

Cho invited Akiba to Seoul, and the two vowed to reinforce cooperation on cultural and personnel exchanges between the countries, according to the ministry.