TOKYO -- Japan on Monday urged the next South Korean government implement a landmark 2015 deal to resolve the long-running rift over Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women as the official campaign period for South Korea's upcoming presidential election began the same day.
"The two countries promised to implement the December 2015 agreement that was highly esteemed in the international community regardless of the internal affairs (in South Korea)," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, told a press conference.
In this photo released by Kyodo News, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on April 12, 2017. (Yonhap)
Under the deal, Tokyo apologized and agreed to provide 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at helping the victims, euphemistically called "comfort women."
They also agreed to resolve the rift over the wartime atrocity "once and for all."
Tokyo claimed that a statue commemorating the victims before its consulate in the southern South Korean port city of Busan, along with another one standing in front of its embassy in Seoul, runs counter to the Seoul-Tokyo deal.
Seoul has called for an appropriate solution to the dispute over the statue but veered off from making a promise to get it removed or moved to another place, saying that it is not in its purview to do so since the statue was built by civic groups.
Suga's remarks reflect Japan's concerns that some major presidential candidates including Moon Jae-in, the leading presidential hopeful from the largest Democratic Party, have hinted at renegotiating the deal, with polls showing some 70 percent of South Koreans wanting the government to renegotiate the Seoul-Tokyo accord.
South Korea is set to hold a presidential election on May 9 following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.
Critics in Seoul demand the cancellation of the accord, saying that the Japanese government still refuses to recognize its legal responsibility and denies the women were forcefully recruited to front-line military brothels. The deal was reached also without consultation with the victims, they said.
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. Around 40 surviving South Korean victims are mostly in their late 80s. (Yonhap)