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.
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.
“Sex Slavery Agreement Drawing Backlash” – Korea Times