Yoon includes drafter of problematic 2015 “comfort women” agreement in envoy to Japan

Posted on : 2022-04-18 17:17 KST Modified on : 2022-04-18 17:17 KST
The policy consultation delegation also includes a professor who voiced support for the 2015 agreement
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s spokesperson, Bae Hyun-jin, delivers a press briefing on April 17 at the office of the presidential transition committee. (pool photo)
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s spokesperson, Bae Hyun-jin, delivers a press briefing on April 17 at the office of the presidential transition committee. (pool photo)

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol will be sending a delegation to Japan to discuss policy next week. Japan will be the second country Yoon has sent an envoy to, the first being the US. While Yoon’s intention is to strengthen bilateral cooperation under his administration, his delegation includes an official who played a leading role in the controversial “comfort women” agreement that Korea reached with Japan in 2015.

“Along with the policy delegation that we sent to the US, we have also decided to send a delegation to Japan,” Yoon's spokesperson, Bae Hyun-jin, said during a press briefing at the office of the presidential transition office in Seoul on Sunday.

The delegation is scheduled to depart for Japan on April 24 and return on April 28, following meetings with officials in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, lawmakers, and figures in the areas of business, media and academia.

The delegation will be headed by Chung Jin-suk, who co-chairs a foreign policy forum for Korea-Japan parliamentarians. The co-head of the delegation will be Kim Seok-ki, another lawmaker.

The other members of the delegation are Yun Duk-min, former head of the Korea National Diplomatic Academy; Park Cheol-hee, a professor at Seoul National University's Graduate School of International Studies (and a member of the transition team’s foreign policy and national security subcommittee); Lee Sang-deok, former ambassador to Singapore; Chang Ho-jin, former ambassador to Cambodia; and Woo Jung-yeop, an analyst at the Sejong Institute.

“Yoon is sending this delegation to deliberate policy related to cooperation with the US and Japan, including North Korea policy and our relationship with Japan, following his inauguration as president. We expect that this will serve to lay the foundation for cooperation on North Korea policy and for resolving pending issues with Japan,” Bae said.

Reports indicate that the delegation is also seeking a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Yoon has already indicated his strong determination to restore relations with Japan, and this delegation to Japan includes a former diplomat who helped orchestrate the so-called comfort women agreement under former President Park Geun-hye and a professor who voiced support for that agreement.

Lee Sang-deok, who was involved in the negotiations with Japan on this historical issue while serving as head of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau at Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2015, has been criticized for reaching a political agreement, rather than a victim-centered one.

Park Cheol-hee has also criticized the Moon administration for scrapping the comfort women deal and Korea’s Supreme Court for ordering Japanese companies to pay damages to Koreans conscripted for labor during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea.

Some are raising concerns that the Korean government will be reverting to the approach that the Park administration took on the issues of forced labor and the comfort women system.

In response to a question from reporters, an official with the transition team said that historical disputes may well be discussed while the delegation is in Japan, considering that the delegation to the US was authorized to “discuss every issue very frankly.”

By Park Jong-o, staff reporter

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