Comfort women issue is S. Korea’s diplomatic defeat

“Did the South Korean and Japanese government confirm that [the one billion yen to be paid by Japan] was not ‘compensation’?” (a Japanese reporter)
“There has been no change whatsoever in [Tokyo’s] position that the issue of claim rights for comfort women has already been resolved.” (Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida)
The main focus of journalists’ questions at an Aug. 12 press conference by Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida was on the basic nature of a pledged payment of one billion yen (US$9.9 million) by the Japanese government, which Kishida said would be disbursed “as soon as possible” according to a Dec. 28 agreement reached last year with Seoul on the comfort women issue. The reporters asked whether Japan had confirmed with South Korea that the contribution was not intended as compensation for the women’s drafting as sexual slaves to the Japanese military during Korea’s colonization (1910-45).
“There has been no change in the Japanese government’s existing position,” Kishida replied.
It was a brief exchange, but it reaffirmed what kind of deal the Dec. 28 agreement actually was.
Seoul and Tokyo’s battle on the comfort women issue over the past five years appears likely to go down in history as a defining moment in diplomatic history – one that made clear just how far South Korea’s power and autonomy reach in a northeast Asia order where conflict between the US and China is surfacing ever more visibly.
The emergence of the comfort women as a major social issue in South Korea came in the wake of a historic press conference on Aug. 14, 1991, by survivor Kim Hak-sun. After South Korea became a democracy in the late 1980s, comfort women survivors in South Korea began waging a concerted campaign to demand reparations and compensation from the Japanese government. Their calls were met with an adamant insistence from Tokyo that individual rights to claim damages had disappeared with the 1965 Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Agreement. Japan did propose a compromise: the Asian Women’s Fund (1995-2007) which acknowledged its “moral responsibility” rather than its legal responsibility for the inexpungible crime against women. It was the first “seal” on the comfort women issue.
The next two decades or so saw a dogged battle by the survivors and South Korean civil society, which used relationships of international solidarity to build a global understanding that the victims had been sexual slaves, and the system a war crime by Japan. At home, they waged a campaign to make the South Korea-Japan agreement document public. As a result, Seoul modified its previous position in Aug. 2005 to argue that three major issues had not been resolved by the agreement: the comfort women, Koreans on Sakhalin Island, and victims in the atomic bombings of Japan. The Constitutional Court ruled in Aug. 2011 that it was unconstitutional for Seoul not to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Tokyo to resolve the comfort women issue. The first seal had been broken.
The national fervor was carried on by Park Geun-hye: after becoming president in Feb. 2013, she ended up in a stiff battle with the Shinzo Abe administration with her demands for a “good-faith first step” from Tokyo on the issue.
This was more or less the limit of what Seoul could do alone diplomatically, however. As US-China frictions escalated, Washington announced in Oct. 2013 that it “welcomed” Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense rights. By the spring of 2015, senior US officials were being vocal about the need for all three sides to – as US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter put it in April – “face the future.” By the time of last year’s Liberation Day address on Aug. 15, Seoul had changed course, accepting the insulting statement by Abe – which made no mention at all of Japan’s colonization of other Asian countries – and attempting to improve relations. The Dec. 28 agreement was the logical result. With it, the victims’ rightful demands were once again sealed away.
The South Korean government has tried to present its actions as a “resolution” to the issue. But as the strenuous objections from the victims and public show, the deal is being seen as a lopsided diplomatic defeat. Kishida’s comments on Aug. 12 suggest the remain negotiations will be tough. That day, Kishida said the one billion yen could only be used within “the scope of uses agreed upon by the Japanese and South Korean governments,” and that steps would be taken to ensure the “expenditure for projects” would not be given as a lump-sum payment to individual victims. South Korea finds itself in the situation of having the comfort women issue “finally and irreversibly” resolved as a condition for receiving one billion yen that it cannot even use as it wants. Faced with the US’s East Asia strategy, Japan’s historical revision, the Park administration’s weak sense of her place in history, all the achievements made by South Korean society in the 71 years since liberation now appear to be going up in smoke.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent, HynKyuRe News Daily

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2 thoughts on “Comfort women issue is S. Korea’s diplomatic defeat”

  1. Surviving comfort women have been opposing to the agreement made by both governments so far. They do not want money from any side. Most of them are in 90 something age.. What they want is recognition and apology from Japanese government.

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