Korean Comfort Women

Japan and South Korea have finally reached what seems to be a mutually agreeable outcome to the issue of South Korean comfort women being used by the Japanese during World War 2. South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung has announced on January 9th that the Korean government will not seek to renegotiate the deal in their favor. While South Korea’s president Moon Jae In has been sharply critical of the agreement during his election campaign; many experts have expressed that the Korean government would seek a renegotiation on the deal.

On December 27, 2017, a special task force was assigned by the Korean government to determine whether the deal was a fair one. The task force concluded that since the comfort women were not addressed directly and that since their testimonies were not taken into consideration properly, or perhaps at all. The deal was not legitimate. This reversed almost two decades of dialogue between the countries and it had appeared that negotiations would have to be started anew.

The Japanese foreign minister Taro Ono reacted strongly to the nullification of the most recent 2015 agreement. His stance was that since 1993 the issue had been debated, having a strong effect on Japanese – South Korean relations each time a resolution was considered. The first attempt at a resolution happened in 1993, when then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary merely acknowledged the role of the Japanese Army in establishing comfort women brothels. However, there was not to be a formal apology for two years, when prime minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a “heartfelt apology” for the occurrence. He then went one step further and established an organization dedicated to reparations for the comfort women. The Asian Woman’s Fund, established in 2005 would provide financial compensation and health care assistance for the comfort women.

The South Korean government was not content with the measure taken by the Japanese government. It’s complaint being that the Asian Woman’s Fund was not an official entity because it was not directly funded by the Japanese Government. Instead it relied on private donations. After the South Korean government publicly denounced the effort made by Japan to appease the South Koreans, civic groups became aware of the issue. This led to a campaign of placing statues of a girl meant to symbolize comfort women in various public venues. One such statue was placed in front of the Japanese embassy. The civic campaign became a world wide phenomenon and the statues have since been erected in more than ten different countries.

The 2015 Agreement saw the Japanese government agree to provide the South Korean government a one time lump sum of money that would be used to give financial and medical reparations to the comfort women of World War Two. From a diplomatic standpoint the 2015 Agreement was a huge success because it saw both sides agree that this would be the final resolution of the comfort women issue.

The issue had been seen as a barrier to cooperation between the two countries. It’s importance was given more urgency due to the need of Tokyo and Seoul to cooperate in mutually beneficial goal of dealing with the rogue state North Korea. The Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono had repeatedly said that the deal would be a litmus test for how Japan and South Korea would be able to cooperate on future agreements.