TOKYO – Japan and South Korea announced a breakthrough Monday, putting an end to a decades-long impasse over Japan's exploitation of Asian women, including many Koreans, at military-run brothels before and during World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a pledge from South Korea to halt criticism of Japan over the issue, something that an earlier 1995 Japanese apology and government-organized welfare plan failed to achieve. Here's what each plan entailed and why this one appears to have succeeded:
— Japan's government will directly fund a 1 billion yen ($8 million) fund to be set up by the South Korean government to help deal with the psychological and physical needs of the 46 surviving former South Korean victims.
— Japan's government acknowledged that its wartime military was involved in the abuse, and that it was "a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women."
— Abe, a nationalist who has been accused of whitewashing Japan's military atrocities, nevertheless expressed his "most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds." It was largely a repeat of what his predecessors have said over the past two decades.
— Japan and South Korea agree that the agreement settles the comfort women "finally and irreversibly."
— The agreement follows several years of U.S. calls for better relations between its two close East Asian allies.
1995 APOLOGY AND ASIAN WOMEN'S FUND:
— Japan made a similar apology, but refused to use government money to provide compensation, saying all such claims had been settled by a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties. It said the fund for victims would come mainly from private donations and would be earmarked for women in a range of countries — South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Netherlands. All except South Korea accepted the payments.
— In South Korea, the Japanese fund planned to pay a combination of "atonement money" from private donations and a separate amount of government money for medical and welfare projects to each of the 237 victims then recognized by the South Korean government.
— However, only 61 South Korean victims accepted the money. The others refused or stopped receiving it because of heavy criticism from supporters and the public that all should come from Japan's government.
— Japan has since said that private donations were less than had been expected and that the government ended up providing a large portion of the money. The fund's structure is still widely seen as reflecting a lack of official Japanese contrition. Abe's government in recent years has praised Japan's contributions, while criticizing South Korea for unnecessarily prolonging the problem.