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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 26)

All News 06:59 June 26, 2017

Revisiting bilateral deal
Rush to scrap comfort women accord may backfire

President Moon Jae-in has persistently questioned the 2015 Korea-Japan deal on reparations for the victims of Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.

During the campaign for the May 9 election, Moon vowed to seek an agreement that would be accepted by the people. Although Moon has not officially said he will seek renegotiation, his latest interviews suggest he may pursue measures to complement the existing deal.

The Moon administration has been trying to build a case for revisiting the deal by highlighting Koreans' disapproval of it. During several interviews with the international media last week, Moon repeatedly underlined that many Koreans cannot emotionally accept the agreement on the comfort women and that many of the victims themselves strongly reject it.

New Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha made similar remarks during her first phone conversation with her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida.

As part of the agreement, Tokyo provided 1 billion yen ($8.7 million) for a foundation to help the victims. Although Abe apologized, the victims and civic groups said it was not enough in acknowledging government responsibility for the sexual slavery. Japan calls it a "final and irreversible" agreement in resolving the comfort women issue, but the victims are calling for a renegotiation.

The representatives of the relevant civic groups recently met with senior presidential secretary for social innovation Ha Seung-chang, and called on the government to scrap the existing deal and swiftly embark on renegotiation.

There have been high hopes among the victims over Moon and his new foreign minister, who showed up at the National Assembly confirmation hearing wearing a badge offered to her during her visit with the surviving comfort women. But it is worrisome that the victims may face only more disappointment when their hopes are not met by the new administration. Realistically, renegotiation is impossible unless Japan agrees to it. Japan has been adamant that the deal is final and has urged Korea to deliver on its side of the deal.

The people's discontent cannot be grounds for renegotiation of a diplomatic agreement between two countries which should be continued regardless of change of power. The 2015 comfort women deal is faulty for many reasons, but Japan should not be blamed entirely. Former President Park Geun-hye and the foreign ministry are at fault for rushing an agreement without properly collecting the public sentiment and not proceeding with the deal in a transparent manner.

If Moon jumps at renegotiation solely on the back of strong public sentiment, it will only deepen the long-running feud between the two countries on historical issues. This will seriously impede Korea-Japan relations.

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