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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 22)

Editorials from Korean Dailies 07:12 November 22, 2018

Worsening ties with Japan
New framework needed to resolve historical issues

The already-soured relations between South Korea and Japan are feared to deteriorate further following Seoul's decision to disband a Tokyo-funded foundation to help wartime sex slavery victims. On Wednesday, the Moon Jae-in government announced it would dissolve the foundation created under a controversial 2015 agreement between the two countries to settle the "comfort women" issue.

The decision will certainly have negative implications on bilateral ties. But it is not surprising because the Moon administration had already hinted at the shutdown of the nonprofit foundation, for which Japan handed over 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) as not compensatory but "consolatory" money to the former sex slaves for Japanese troops.

The Reconciliation and Healing Foundation was established in 2016 under an agreement signed by the Park Geun-hye government. It has so far provided a combined sum of 4.4 billion won ($3.9 million) to 34 surviving victims and bereaved families of 58 dead victims. But the remainder of the surviving victims and civil rights activists are strongly against the agreement, saying Tokyo still refuses to acknowledge to and apologize for its wartime atrocities sincerely.

Against this backdrop, the Moon government has tried not to implement the accord, even though it did not scrap it or push for renegotiation. It blamed the previous administration for too hurriedly striking the deal, under which the two countries agreed to resolve the sexual slavery issue "finally and irreversibly" for the sake of forward-looking bilateral ties.

But the deal was doomed to failure from the start. The reason is because it lacks two key elements of a genuine solution: Japan's sincere apology and reparations for its crime against humanity. South Koreans feel that no deal is better than a bad deal.

Seoul's decision to shut down the foundation has virtually tolled the death knell for the agreement. It came after the Supreme Court of Korea last month ruled in favor of four Koreans forced to work for Japanese steelmaker Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. during World War II. The ruling has reignited a diplomatic row over Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Tokyo has maintained a firm position that individual rights to reparations were terminated by the 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic ties between the two countries. However the court ruling rejected the Japanese stance.

Seoul's action against the foundation has added fuel to the fire. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said immediately the decision was "unacceptable." So it will be inevitable to see tension between the two countries rise further.

Now the question is how to resolve historical issues between Seoul and Tokyo and mend ties to develop a future-oriented partnership. Some experts say a new framework is necessary to find a viable solution. Most of all, Japan should first reflect on its past misdeeds, offer a genuine apology and take legal responsibility. Without doing so, no solution is in sight.

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