The Foreign Ministry announced that a task force (TF) charged with reviewing the South Korea-Japan accord on settling Japan's wartime sexual slavery of Korean women held its first meeting on Monday.
The meeting was attended by nine TF members, including private experts and ministry officials who have extensive knowledge of Seoul-Tokyo relations, international politics and laws, and human rights.
Participants focused discussions on methods of operations and future plans. The Foreign Ministry said the TF decided to check and evaluate the facts on the overall content of the 2015 Seoul-Tokyo deal and on how it was produced.
The ministry said that during the process, the TF will firmly maintain its focus on sexual slavery victims and heed the opinions of victims and other related officials. The TF is aiming to produce results before the year’s end and will publicly reveal its findings.
To this end, the TF will review a large volume of diplomatic papers and interview presidential and ministry officials who were involved in the December 2015 agreement.
The deal was struck between then Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida. The two sides agreed on Tokyo’s apology and provision of a one billion yen donation to Seoul for the establishment of a foundation dedicated to the victims. The agreement also declared the sex slavery issue is irreversibly resolved once and for all.
Under the accord, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued an apologetic statement and a foundation for “reconciliation and healing” opened in Seoul in July last year with the funds received from Japan.
Since the deal was struck, Japan has repeatedly urged Seoul to abide by the agreement, which has been a source of controversy in South Korea for failing to gather the opinions of the victims themselves.
The 2015 agreement materialized with the aim to remove a major hurdle to future-oriented Seoul-Tokyo relations. The two sides launched negotiations in April 2014 but progress was negligible through late 2015.
When the deal was signed, suspicions arose on how progress abruptly came about in the stalled talks and also concerning disputed wording in the agreement such as “irreversible.”
The task force is set to answer these questions and listen to and reflect the views of the victims as much as possible.
However, if officials involved in the agreement refuse to be interviewed, there is no way to force them to do so. Disclosing the process of a diplomatic negotiation is also a sensitive matter. The conclusion reached by the TF is expected to have a major impact on bilateral relations.