By AsiaToday reporter Son Ji-eun
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered a face-to-face apology Thursday to Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan's imperial army in World War II over a controversial 2015 deal, saying, "I, as President, apologize for the agreement that was against the wishes of the victims."
Moon had ordered a officials to map out follow-up measures to meet the victims' demands following the release of the Foreign Ministry task force's report on the 2015 agreement between Seoul and Tokyo on December 27. The government is expected to finalize its position next week on whether to renegotiate or even cancel the agreement. The president's invitation of the victims to presidential office Cheong Wa Dae was aimed to listen to their opinions before deciding on the government position on how to resolve the issue.
President Moon escorted the victims to the presidential office by sending the Presidential Secretariat's escorted vehicle to the House of Sharing, a shelter for sexual slavery victims, in Gwangju, Gyeonggi-do. The president ordered police and the presidential security service to escort the victims at the same level as state-guest escort. An ambulance moved along with the vehicle considering the victims' health conditions. The victims were escorted in the same way on their way back home after the luncheon. Ahead of the luncheon, President Moon visited one of the women, Kim Bok-dong, separately in the morning as she was ill and unable to attend the lunch. This is the first time for an incumbent president to make a face-to-face visit to the victim in the hospital.
In the luncheon, President Moon said, "The previous agreement did not only go against the principle of truth and justice, it was a defective agreement both in its contents and in the procedure that was pushed by the former government unilaterally without listening to the opinions of the victims." He reaffirmed his position, saying, "I cannot deny the deal was a formal agreement between the two governments, but I declare the issue of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women won't be resolved by it."
Lee Yong-soo, the true model of the film "I Can Speak", expressed gratitude for Moon's efforts, saying, "At the age of 90, I've never got into even close to the Cheong Wa Dae. But since President Moon Jae-in has taken office, I have already entered the Cheong Wa Dae twice." Along with late Kim Koon-ja, Lee famously testified before the US Congress in 2007 of their rape and torture at the hands of Japanese soldiers, leading the adoption of the resolution. Lee was previously invited to a dinner when U.S. President Donald Trump visited Seoul in November last year.
In a media interview on Thursday, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said that the government is leaving all options open on the issue, including the cancellation of the deal. "But we should carefully think about the consequences," she said.