Photo/IllutrationSupporters of former comfort women stage a weekly rally near the statue of a girl representing the suffering of comfort women in the vicinity of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Nov. 21. (The Asahi Shimbun)

The core objective of the 2015 agreement between Japan and South Korea on the so-called “comfort women” issue is to restore the honor and dignity of victims and heal their wounds through joint efforts by the two governments.

The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears to have lost sight of this goal.

Although he has said his government will not scrap the agreement, Moon has been taking ill-advised actions apparently aimed at letting the pact die a slow and steady death.

In its latest move concerning the issue, the South Korean government announced Nov. 21 that it will start legal procedures to dissolve the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation, a vehicle designed to help former comfort women with Japanese funds. Tokyo has provided 1 billion yen ($8.85 million) to the fund, according to the agreement.

Seoul did not specify reasons for taking the step. But there has been a strong backlash in South Korea against the agreement struck by the previous administration of then South Korean President Park Geun-hye. The Moon government has argued that there were flaws in the process leading to the deal.

The foundation has become dysfunctional as most of its board members have resigned since last year. The South Korean government would say that the reality has forced its decision to disband the body.

In fact, however, the foundation has produced some benefits for former comfort women. More than 70 percent of the surviving victims eligible for the financial support program expressed their intention to accept the money.

It is said that it was a bitter decision for many of them. But there is no denying that the foundation played an important role in helping the victims.

The foundation was designed to engage in long-term efforts to heal their wounds. How does the South Korean government intend to provide relief to former comfort women after scrapping the body?

If it has taken the backward step without a clear plan to achieve this goal, a real solution to the problem will only move further out of reach.

The South Korean government urgently needs to map out a viable plan for its future actions. There is still some 1.5 billion yen left from the program, including the remainder of the original funds and the money added by the South Korean government.

Seoul should work closely with Tokyo to find a way to make good use of the money in line with the spirit of the agreement.

There are some issues both governments should deal with carefully in such bilateral cooperation.

While there are still many questions concerning comfort women that have yet to be answered, academic research into the problem has made significant progress.

In South Korea, however, inaccurate pieces of information, such as total numbers of comfort women that have not been academically confirmed, are sometimes used in discussions over the issue.

Even if the money is used for a public awareness and enlightenment campaign, it cannot be convincing unless it is based on a careful study of historical facts.

The Japanese government, for its part, should not turn its back on inconvenient historical facts.

It should do soul-searching on certain past actions that did not help uncover the truth, including stonewalling the release of records concerning comfort women kept by government organizations.

Dark clouds are again gathering over the outlook of the relationship between Japan and South Korea.

The bilateral relationship has been strained particularly by diplomatic conflict over the South Korean top court’s ruling last month that ordered Japan's Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to compensate four South Koreans for their labor during World War II.

There can be no way to settle such historical issues in one fell swoop. The only effective approach is to make steady efforts to build on what has been agreed upon for better mutual understanding.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22