Historic Deal Reached Over Sex Slave Issue

On Monday, in Seoul, South Korean foreign minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart reached a historic deal between the two nations over the sex slave issue.  Such women have also been called comfort women.  The deal represents a major shift in thought throughout the Japanese government, which has previously denied the claims.

Throughout World War 2, Korea was under the rule of the Japanese.  Korea was annexed into the Japanese Empire in 1910, following several wars – the Russo-Japanese War and the Sino-Japanese War – as well as a harsh rendition of gunboat diplomacy.  Throughout this time, the Japanese started to persecute the Koreans and attempt to force assimilation into the Japanese culture.  Programs such as the banning of the Korean language in school, forcing Koreans to take Japanese names, and forced worship of Shinto – the native Japanese religion – sought to achieve this goal.  The most debated of such programs, however, was the forced conscription of Korean women – as well as women from other East Asian nations – during World War 2, to service the sexual needs of the Japanese military in brothels.

The debate has been heated on both sides.  The South Korean government has constantly badgered the Japanese government to get an apology.  While the Japanese government has constantly been giving apologies that, in Korea, have been seen as unsatisfactory.  For years the stringent debate has been a thorn in the side of Korean and Japanese affairs, causing some issues with diplomacy between the two nations.  The new agreement, unlike the other apologies and agreements, is the most sincere agreement that has been reached on the issue, even eliciting praise from the United States.

The concessions within the agreement include an apology from Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan.  This contradicts his stance on the issue, as in 2013 Abe made a statement saying that he would not uphold the 1995 apology.  In the apology, Abe “apologized from the heart” to those who were affected by the issue.  Though the apology was arguably the most sincere apology to come form the Japanese on the issue, the agreement also included historic aid of 1 billion yen – around $8.3 million.  This form of acknowledgement, both the aid agreement and apology, will usher in a new era of Korea-Japan relations since the hatchet of comfort women is now being buried, hopefully for good this time.

The international reception of the deal has been positive.  The United States has praised the deal.  In an article on the Yonhap news website, The United States National Security Advisor Susan Rice is quoted as saying “the United States applauds the leaders of the ROK and Japan … for having the courage and vision to forge a lasting settlement to the difficult issue.”  She is also quoted saying that the United States is supportive of the agreement.  Though several nations are excited for the deal, there has been backlash as well.

The only nation to show its dissent with the issue is North Korea.  In its state paper, the Rodung Sinmun, the only article mentioning the deal covers the protests against the deal.  While the distaste of the deal in North Korea is to be expected, there are nationalists in South Korea and Japan that are criticizing the deal.  In a New York Times article, Park Geun-hae – the South Korean president – is citied as receiving the most of such backlash, as the surviving women had no voice in the creation of the deal.  Lee Yong-su is cited as shouting “What country do you belong to?” to South Korean Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam as he entered a shelter for the women in Seoul.  In an article in the Korea Times, Lee is citied as saying “throwing out money and asking us to forget the past, that’s disgusting.”  Such criticism comes as the victims are asked to take the deal as final.

The deal between Japan and South Korea represents a shift in the political situation between the two nations.  The deal, accepted by both Park Geun-hae and Abe Shinzo – both seen as hard liners – and provides the nations with a clear way to move past the issue.  The deal has been met with praise and congratulations from the international community, with the United States showing sincere appreciation for the two allies coming together to solve the issue.  Though it has been praised by lawmakers on the international stage, internally there has been some backlash and harsh criticism.  The most vehement criticism has come from the survivors, which had zero say in the deal and see it as disgusting.  The new deal can bring the two nations together diplomatically, though it in no way assuages the anguish of the remaining survivors.  The only way that the South Korean society will be appeased is if the Japanese government explicitly takes legal responsibility for taking comfort women.  The Japanese government, however, has been reluctant to take such responsibility.  Without legal responsability, the two nations must look for ways to push forward and the deal provides the two nations with an ample starting point in repairing relations.

Update:

China has show its distaste in the deal, as they want to see some sot of acknowledgment for their victims.  Also, the South Korean government has been fervently attempting to get the support of the surviving victims.  This will be a daunting task, as they see the deal as buying their silence.

Sources:

“U.S. Praises South Korea, Japan for Reaching Deal on Wartime Sexual Slavery” – Yonhap News

“South Korean and Japanese Leaders Feel Backlash from ‘Comfort Women’ Deal” – New York Times

“Sex Slavery Agreement Drawing Backlash” – Korea Times

“Japan, South Korea Reach Historic Deal on Wartime ‘Comfort Women'” – NBC News

 

Recent Propaganda Posters From North Korea

Earlier in the year, the North Korean elite announced that next year would bring about the 7th congress of the Workers Party.  This would be the first to take place since Kim Il-sung named Kim Jung-il to e the successor in the regime.  The recent releases of North Korean propaganda posters is trying to unify the nation before such a momentous event.

The theme of unification of the population behind a social or economical cause is commonplace in North Korean society.  (I actually just finished a paper for class arguing that the intent of North Korean propaganda is to create a population that has become a crowd, eliminating all routes to individual and intellectual thought.)  The recent releases of North Korean propaganda utilizes this theme to rally the population behind the outcome of the congress, though it has not taken place yet.

The slogans of the new posters all call for unification of the population in welcoming the new congress.  Though there is small deviations between the posters.  Some of the posters call for labor initiative, while others call for simply superior feats.  Some of the posters even call for both.  These posters are welcoming a political event, which has been the common call of the posters, as was seen throughout the 70th anniversary and other recent celebrations in North Korea.

The images within the posters are interesting.  One showcases several medals, showing that the elite are to take part in the congress.  Which is easily explanatory, since the congress will be made up of those loyal to the regime, as such people make up the political elite.  There is also the use of technologically modern items, such as trains, cars and naval vessels.  This poster uses the city of Pyongyang as the back drop to the advancement, hinting to the population that the party and Pyongyang – North Korea in general – is responsible for the advancement of the nation and should be respected.

So, what should be the takeaways from these new posters and why should we care?  The answer to the first question is simple.  The takeaway is that the congress will be seen as a celebration in North Korea, at least they are promoting it like they have done with other celebrations within the nation.  For this reason, there will be a huge emphasis placed on the congress and its outcome, so the possibility of a provocation, most likely small and/or in the form of a vocalization of some sort will be higher than normal (this is my takeaway and prediction).  The second question is slightly answered in the first questions answer.  The congress will treated as a celebration in North Korea and with celebrations comes possible provocations.  Also, with the recent announcement that North Korea is developing a new nuclear testing tunnel, the chance of a nuclear test can not be eliminated, though it may be far off and miniscule.  This will raise security concerns on the peninsula and will raise tensions for many of the nations around the peninsula, both geographically and politically.  Though this will not be the first time that political tension around the Korean peninsula has heightened to the point of possible war, a fourth nuclear test, or provocations, around the congress will be used to cement the authority of the regime and showcasing the military strength of the party.  Depending on what happens with the congress, the surrounding events should be watched as we near the event.  The fact that North Korea is advertising the event as a spectacle and celebration, may signal a special provocation.  The start of tunneling at the North’s nuclear testing facility may offer insight into what type of provocation it shall be.  Personally, I hope that Kim jung-un does not conduct a nuclear test and that the congress will go off with out provocation.  The congress will be watched by experts, but also the outside events around the congress should also be monitored, as they may as well be more political unsettling throughout the peninsula and the region.

Two News Articles (Post from previous blog site)

Found an interesting article this morning, well two, about South Korea’s current society.  The first was a diplomat article that delves into the effect that a growing multiculturalism can have on an initial unification attempt and the second looked at the growing numbers of South Koreans that are dying alone, with no family that is reachable for a multitude of reasons.

     First, the Diplomat article:

South Korea has a growing presence of foreign residents, some ethnic Korean, others none Korean.  Such a wide trend has lead to many estimates stating that by 2030, foreign residents in South Korea will be around 10% of the population, thus rendering the society no longer homogenous.  Now, you may ask, what effect would such a trend have in the event of unification?  The answer lies within the current structure of North Korean society.  In North Korea, which is still a very homogeneous nation, foreigners are ridiculed and, in the case of Americans, vilified to push the position that the party has taken.  This has lead to a serious divide in Korean society, one that will come to more light as unification happens and the homogeneous North Korean population has to learn to integrate with a ever mixing South Korean population.  Where I disagree with this article, however, is the extent that such a divide will hinder unification.  This argument is based on the fact that many North Koreans will flee to the southern part of a unified Korea, which is highly likely since they will most likely see the south as more prosperous section of Korea, but the extent of this migration will be smaller than most people think, since the newly formed Korea will want to have citizens in the northern areas to foster growth and maintain the area.  Therefore, post unification, there will be a disproportionate set of populations that will resemble what is currently on the Korean peninsula, leading to a gradual move of a mixed bag of nationalities up north and gradual assimilation of the North Korean people.  Therefore, this divide will have an effect on the outcome of unification, but not as drastic as the article sounds.

Now, the New York Times article:

This article was interesting and more so considering the current tide in the South Korean population.  Such a trend is also seen in Japan, where the population is rapidly ageing, with fewer and fewer children being born into these nations.  However, this article does not deal with this situation, it discusses what happens when people die and there is not a single person to claim them, for a variety of reasons.  The most common reason being the lack of money that is in the family.  The reason that monetary issues arise in this situation are due to the lavishness of funerals n South Korea – though I have personally never been inside of a South Korean funeral, I have seen them from the outside as I walked past Yonsei Funeral Home and can attest to the vast amount of people that attend them and can only start to guess the cost that goes into holding a funeral.  The article describes the position and actions of activist Park Jin-ok, who tries to care for such people, by holding simple funerals for those that find themselves without anyone to provide such a luxury.

The rapid rise of dying alone in South Korea attests to two major issues within the South Korean populace at the time, which are the lack to provide a sensible end to those that need it, based off societal norms that pressure people to hold lavish funerals, as well as showcasing a shift in the family structure that has been a huge part of South Korean society for centuries.  This trend can be fixed through providing cheaper and more affordable ways to say goodbye to those that have moved on, or by simply granting some ease when it comes to this process.  In the words of Park Jin-ok, “a society that lets its poor and abandoned die alone and leave without a funeral is itself dying at its heart,” (quoted in the article.)  Though this may not have a simple fix, I do agree with Park that societies are only as strong as the poor and the right to a proper funeral is something that should be bestowed onto the entire population, not just those that can afford them.  I wish that Mr. Park and his organization, Nanum and Nanum the best at rising awareness at such an issue, as well as providing for those that do have the money or family to provide even a simple funeral for themselves.