Opposition to sex slave deal mounts
Most of citizens oppose agreement reached with Japan on compensation for ‘comfort women’
South Korea’s opposition politicians on Wednesday called for nullifying a settlement reached between Seoul and Tokyo on compensation for South Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s military in World War II.
Their statements on the anniversary of the deal came amid growing efforts to erase some of the key policies of impeached President Park Geun-hye. Facing political and public pressure, the Education Ministry on Tuesday backtracked from a much-criticized plan to require middle and high schools to use only state-issued history textbooks from next year.
‘Selling honor away’
Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, said the party will work to invalidate the sex slave agreement if it wins the presidential elections that could take place in just months, echoing similar promises made by the party’s potential candidates.
Kim Gyeong-rok, spokesman of the People’s Party, criticized the Park administration for “selling away” the victims’ honor and dignity, and said the issue couldn’t be resolved without Japan offering a sincere apology and admitting legal responsibility.
Under the agreement, Japan pledged to give 1 billion yen ($8.5 million) to a foundation to help support the former sex slaves. South Korea, in exchange, vowed to refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue. The deal was widely criticized in South Korea, where many thought the government settled for far too less.
On Wednesday, hundreds of students and civic group activists as well as ordinary people held their “Wednesday rally” in front of the Japanese embassy in central Seoul to protest against what they claimed was the unilateral, disgraceful deal.
Most of South Koreans oppose the agreement, unilaterally pushed by the Park government with no parliamentary approval. The Japanese leader has yet to offer a sincere apology for past brutalities and acknowledge his Cabinet’s legal responsibility for the wartime crime against humanity.
South Korean investigators on Wednesday detained the country’s former health minister as they expand their inquiry into a corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-hye.
The special prosecution team now has 48 hours to decide whether to request a formal arrest warrant for Moon Hyung-pyo. Moon faces allegations that he pressured the National Pension Service to support a controversial merger deal between two Samsung affiliates last year, even though the fund’s stake in one of the companies lost an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in value.
Investigators also summoned Kim Sang-ryul, Park’s former senior secretary for education and culture, to look into allegations that the presidential office kept a “blacklist” of cultural figures deemed as unfriendly to Park’s administration and denied them state support.
Investigators have asked the Financial Supervisory Service to provide personal wealth statements of about 40 people who are suspected of helping Park’s jailed friend, Choi Soon-sil, amass an illicit fortune through her connections with the president. Elephants compete for a ball during a soccer match as part of 13th Elephant Festival in Chitwan, Nepal, on Tuesday.
39 sex slaves now alive
In 2016 alone, seven aged victims passed away, reducing the number of survivors to 39 among 238 South Korean women who had identified themselves as former sex slaves.
It’s unclear whether South Korea could reverse an agreement both governments described as “irreversible”. Park’s conservative ruling party criticized Woo, accusing him of attacking the deal without proposing alternatives and acting like his party already won the presidential race.
Park, who was impeached by the country’s opposition-controlled Parliament over a corruption scandal on Dec 9, had endorsed the state history textbooks, saying it would inspire patriotism in students. Her critics saw the books at an attempt to whitewash the brutal dictatorships that preceded the country’s bloody transition toward democracy in the 1980s.
Education Minister Lee Joon-sik said schools could keep using history textbooks made by private publishers next year, although they can also choose to use state textbooks on a trial basis.
South Korea’s Constitutional Court has up to six months to decide whether Park should permanently step down or be reinstated. If she is formally removed from office, a presidential election must be held within 60 days.