What the money means
Kim Tae-hyeon, an emeritus professor in social welfare at Sungshin Women’s University, is head of the committee, and she made some controversial remarks. At the press conference, she said that the 1 billion yen ($9 million) that Japan offered to pay was “money for remedy, not compensation.”
Reporters were startled. Right after the Dec. 28 agreement, the government claimed that the fund could be seen as practical acknowledgement of legal responsibility and compensation, as the Japanese government acknowledged responsibility, the Japanese leader apologized and a fund from the Japanese government budget was used to help the victims. There is a significant gap between “practical compensation” that the government has been emphasizing and “money for remedy.”
Until the agreement was made public last year, the government had not been using “payment of compensation as a result of legal acknowledgement of state responsibility” due to Japan’s protest. Seoul also did not accept terms like money for “remedy” or “consolation” that Tokyo demanded to use. After one year and eight months of discussion, Seoul and Tokyo agreed on a middle ground to use the phrase “practically legal compensation.”
However, the head of the committee preparing for the foundation to implement the agreement said that it was not compensation. A Foreign Ministry official was surprised by the unexpected remark and hurriedly whispered in Kim’s ear. Then, Kim corrected, “Although I was a bit firm before, I would leave room for other opinions on the point that the money was not compensation.”
Later in the afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Jun-hyeok was bombarded at the regular briefing with questions on whether the government also considered the 1 billion yen as “money for remedy.” Cho repeated the vague answer that “the 1 billion yen is meaningful, as the Japanese government acknowledged responsibility and the money is a measure that substantially supports the position of apology and repentance. You would sufficiently understand if you consider the meaning of the Japanese government offering the money.” He seems to be in an awkward position, unable to openly deny Kim’s remarks.
It would be one consolation in this disaster if the controversy originated from Kim’s lack of understanding. However, Kim complicated the situation even further, as victims and support groups have been working to scrap the agreement, which does not explicitly state clear acknowledgement of Japan’s legal accountability. In the press conference, Kim said, “I will listen to every word of the victims and provide customized assistance for each and every victim to restore honor and dignity.”
Now, asking for agreement and understanding of each and every victim is a must, not an option. It is unpleasant to witness such confusion over the nature of this 1 billion yen.
The author is an international and political news reporter for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 1, Page 29