South Korea announced Tuesday it will not seek to renegotiate the two-year-old deal with Japan on "comfort women" forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, but wants Tokyo to do more for the victims.
In formulating the new policy, South Korea placed emphasis on restoring normal diplomatic relations with Japan for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, in addition to the restoration of honor and dignity of the victims, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said in a press briefing in Seoul.
"There is no denying the 2015 agreement is an official one between the two countries, and thus our government would not demand the Japanese government renegotiate the agreement," she said.
Even so, she said South Korea expects Japan to "accept the truth as it is in line with the universal standard, and continue to make efforts to restore honor and dignity of the victims and heal wounds in their minds."
She stressed what the victims really want is a "voluntary and genuine apology."
Regarding the handling of 1 billion yen ($8.8 million) disbursed by Japan to South Korea under the deal, which some have said should be returned, she said Seoul will set up its own fund of an equal amount and negotiate with Tokyo on what to do with the Japanese contribution.
South Korea would continue to work toward resolving issues related to Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 and also for future-oriented cooperation with Japan, she said.
Seoul's new policy on the deal, struck under the previous administration of ousted President Park Geun Hye, comes less than two weeks after President Moon Jae In called the agreement "seriously flawed."
The announcement drew a swift response from the Japanese government, with Foreign Minister Taro Kono saying in Tokyo that Japan "cannot accept" the new South Korean policy and that steadily implementing the existing deal is "both countries' duty to the international community."
Kono had previously warned that seeking to review the deal would leave bilateral relations "unmanageable."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government's top spokesman, said ahead of the announcement that Tokyo is "not thinking of moving even a millimeter (on the deal)."
Under the deal announced by the foreign ministers of the two countries in December 2015, Japan provided the 1 billion yen to a South Korean foundation set up to support Korean victims, while South Korea agreed to "make efforts" to remove a statue symbolizing comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
In addition, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the agreement apologized to all women who "suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."
The deal, however, has proven controversial among the victims and the South Korean public who felt the victims' voices were ignored, and that Japan's fresh apology over the issue was inadequate. Meanwhile, the bronze, life-size statue, of a girl in traditional Korean dress remains in place in front of the embassy.
Of the 47 former comfort women who were still alive when the agreement was reached, 36 or their bereaved families have received or indicated their intent to receive money from the foundation.
The Moon government, inaugurated in May last year, launched a task force under the foreign minister in July to review the process that led to the deal, arguing that the majority of the South Korean public do not approve of it.
On Dec. 27, the task force said in a report that the Park government failed to sufficiently consult with former comfort women before agreeing to the deal with Japan.
The Japanese government has repeatedly called on the new South Korean government to fully implement the 2015 agreement to "finally and irreversibly" resolve the issue, which has long strained ties between the two Asian neighbors.