"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Letter from AWF President Bunbei Hara to His Excellency Kim Dae-Jung, President of the Republic of Korea

[Date] June 11, 1998
[Source] Digital Museum: Comfort Women Issue and Asian Women's Fund
[Full text]

Your Excellency,President Kim Dae-Jung

Please accept my expression of admiration for the zeal with which you are promoting your country's affairs. I apologize deeply for troubling you with this request at such a busy time. I am taking the liberty to write in the hope that you will accept this expression of our sincerity and arrive at a perceptive decision.

Since assuming the position of President, you have taken a strong leadership role in working for truly amicable relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan, relations befitting the coming 21st century. Through our involvement in the Asian Women's Fund we are striving for amicable bilateral relations, and have been strongly encouraged by your earnest efforts to resolve problems relating to the past history of both countries, including the "comfort women" issue.

The decision to establish the Asian Women's Fund was made after wide-ranging discussions elicited opinions from various perspectives, and upon the Japanese Government became painfully aware, as a result of conducting research on the issue on two occasions, of its moral responsibility for those who had been forced to become "comfort women," and expressing its apology and remorse. The primary objective of the Fund is to implement projects of atonement in cooperation with the Government and people of Japan, and the Fund is paying "atonement money" financed through donations from the Japanese people, and implementing medical and welfare support projects financed by the Japanese Government. The Asian Women's Fund, which was established during the 50th year after the war, can be said to represent the central pillar of efforts of the Japanese Government and people requesting, through their expressions of remorse, the trust of the people of the Republic of Korea.

In the summer of 1996, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto wrote the letter, now referred to as the Prime Minister's letter (please see attached), which is presented directly to victims when the Fund's projects are implemented. The letter is an official apology from the Prime Minister of Japan to women who suffered harm, and expresses remorse and acknowledges moral responsibility with regard to the "comfort women" issue, while specifying plans to use the issue as a lesson of history. Taking inspiration from his letter, I wrote the Letter from the President of the Asian Women's Fund (please see attached), which expresses similar feelings on behalf of the Japanese people who donated money to the Fund.

Fund projects began in the Philippines that summer, and the Prime Minister's letter was presented to seven Halmeoni in the Republic of Korea in January 1997, followed by implementation of Fund projects there. Unfortunately, though, this was met by strong criticism within your country, and the seven women were placed in an extremely difficult and painful situation.

In January 1998 the Asian Women's Fund placed advertisements in newspapers in the Republic of Korea to explain its projects, and was ready to implement projects for Halmeoni who saw the advertisements and contacted the Fund, while taking care to protect their privacy. Because the above-mentioned seven women continued to find themselves with no place to turn, out of respect for the victims' privacy the Fund adopted a policy of not releasing information on whether later projects were implemented or not.

We would like to welcome the recent decision of the Government of the Republic of Korea to pay living expense subsidies to Halmeoni. After that decision was taken by your Cabinet on April 21, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released an announcement stating that your Government would offer assistance to Halmeoni and that "Japan must show remorse and apologize from the bottom of its heart for the inhumane acts it committed in the past." His statement contained no reference at all to the Asian Women's Fund. However, we were shocked to see that the living expense subsidy payments that began on May 7 appeared to be made with the intent of negating the efforts of our Fund.

Perhaps what was said did not reflect the official policy of the Government of the Republic of Korea, but newspaper and other media reports indicated that, when the living expense subsidy payments were made, Halmeoni were asked to write a letter swearing they would not receive benefits from the Asian Women's Fund, and that subsidies were not offered to those who appeared to have received Fund benefits, nor to those who did not submit the sworn letter. Of special note here are reports of a clearly stated policy that if the above-mentioned seven women swore to return, through relevant organizations in the Republic of Korea, the money they had received from the Asian Women's Fund, they would be paid the government subsidy. If these reports are true, the seven women will have ended up being used as a wedge between the Republic of Korea and Japan, and forced into a position of even more unbearable suffering.

Asian Women's Fund projects are implemented with the cooperation of the Government and people of Japan, and are motivated by an awareness of moral responsibility. Benefits from Fund projects were provided to Halmeoni who decided to acknowledge the apology and feelings of atonement of the Japanese Government and people. The Asian Women's Fund's "atonement money" is not a living expense subsidy for Halmeoni, and is therefore in an entirely different category from the subsidies offered by the Government of the Republic of Korea. Thus, the subsidies now being provided by your Government and the projects implemented by the Asian Women's Fund do not run counter to each other. Both programs can be implemented in parallel, and doing so would conceivably be more realistic and would avoid contradictions and suffering.

I therefore request in all sincerity that all Halmeoni, including the above-mentioned seven, be paid the living expense subsidy without having to swear any type of statement, and that your Government indicate its position to be that if an individual wishes to receive benefits from an Asian Women's Fund project this wish will be respected, even if she has already sworn the statement and received the subsidy.

Thus, the Asian Women's Fund hopes that, because its projects represent the earnest feelings of the Government and people of Japan, the benefits of these projects will be distributed to as many Halmeoni as possible. It has certainly never been our intention that the projects lead to a deterioration in bilateral relations, and we find it hard to endure the fact that those who have received benefits from Fund projects have ended up suffering as a result. We intend to strive, within our limited capabilities, to ensure that this does not happen. However, it would seem that the current situation is such that we can do little on our own, and we therefore request in all sincerity that you take a decisive step that results in a way being found, for the future of the people of both countries, to break the current deadlock and permit expression of both the feelings of consideration of the Government of the Republic of Korea and the feelings of atonement of the Japanese people. In this regard, if you or your Government has any new proposal concerning the Asian Women's Fund, I will consider it most seriously.

Please accept my best wishes for your health and for further advances in the amicable relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Bunbei Hara


Asian Women's Fund