South Korea and Japan Reach Agreement on 'Comfort Women' Dispute

Comfort women rally
(Photo : Claire Solery (CC)) Former 'comfort women' rallying in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. August 2011.

The Japanese and South Korean governments reached what they called an "irreversible" agreement on the dispute over Korean 'comfort women' who were recruited as sex slaves during World War II for the Japanese Imperial Army.

The agreement includes an apology from the Japanese government and a $8.3 million offer to provide resources for the 46 former sex slaves who are still alive today. Tens of thousands of Korean women were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, according to historians.

A promise from both countries to not discuss this issue again and to refrain from criticizing each other on the issue in the international community, including in the United Nations, was also included in the agreement.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "expresses anew sincere apologies and remorse from the bottom of his heart to all those who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as 'comfort women,'" Fumio Kishida, the foreign minister of Japan, said as he read from the agreement on Monday.

The agreement has garnered mixed responses from those in South Korea, Japan, and the international community. Activists who have been advocating for justice on behalf of the sex slaves argue that the document does not represent the sex slaves' views or desires.

"It's a humiliating diplomacy for South Korea to give a bushel only to get a peck," said the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery in Japan. "The agreement is nothing but a diplomatic collusion that thoroughly betrayed the wishes of comfort women and the South Korean people."

"I don't think comfort women were considered," Lee Yong-Su, an 88-year-old former 'comfort woman' said of the agreement. "I will ignore it completely."

Park expressed hopes that the agreement would allow Japan and South Korea "to start building trust and open a new relationship."

Indeed, many from the international community expressed the necessity of Japan and South Korea to move forward together.

"It is the choice of reconciliation over recrimination," an anonymous official told the Washington Post. "We hope that it will have the effect of relegating the bitterness of the past to the past, and opening a new chapter of cooperation between Seoul and Korea."

"The world simply can't afford for Japan, Korean, and the U.S. to operate at anything less than full capacity in terms of our security cooperation," another anonymous U.S. Department of State official told Reuters.

Park and Abe have had 12 negotiative meetings regarding this particular issue, according to the New York Times.

Victor Cha, a former director for Asian affairs at the White House's National Security Council and the current Korea chair for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that "the agreement goes farther than most thought Japan would go in terms of admitting government responsibility," as quoted by the Wall Street Journal.

Kishida, Japan's foreign minister, said that the money that was offered in the agreement is not a legal reparation, and the agreement was not clear as to whether Japan's acknowledgment of the sex slaves was a legal or moral one.

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