‘Comfort Women’ Agreement Reached Between Japan and South Korea
http://www.wsj.com/articles/japan-south-korea-reach-comfort-women-agreement-1451286347 Deal will include support services using Japanese government funds WSJ Updated Dec. 28, 2015 4:33 a.m. ET South Korea and Japan on Monday said they reached an agreement on Korean “comfort women” who were forced to serve Japanese soldiers sexually in World War II, easing tensions between the two large economic partners and U.S. allies.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the agreement includes support services for the women, using ¥1 billion ($8.3 million) in Japanese government funds. An earlier Japanese arrangement to help the women in the 1990s and 2000s involved the use of private donations. Seoul has called for direct state-funded support for the women.
The issue of “comfort women”—a euphemism for women used by the imperial Japanese military as forced prostitutes for troops during Japan’s military expansion in Asia beginning in the 1930s—has long strained relations between the two neighbors, and hostility between the two U.S. allies has been a concern for Washington.
The announcement by the foreign ministers of the two countries follows a rare summit between Mr. Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in November, where the two agreed to push for a quick resolution to the decadeslong dispute. Japan and South Korea have been working to narrow the gap on the issue ahead of this year’s 50th anniversary of normalizing relations, hosting 12 rounds of meetings since spring last year to discuss ways to reach an agreement. Observers say the two were under mounting pressure to come to a resolution from Washington, as well as local businesses concerned about strained bilateral ties.
Mr. Kishida said the agreement represents a “final, irreversible” settlement of the issues, and that “Japanese-Korean relations will enter a new era,” while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had in the past questioned the state’s involvement in the military brothels, also issued an unusual public apology over the issue.
“Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women,” according to an official statement from Japan’s foreign ministry.
The South Korean government is determined to end the dispute “irreversibly” and cooperate with the Japanese government to open a chapter of cooperation, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said. The governments in Seoul and Tokyo will “refrain from criticizing each other” over the dispute from now on, Mr. Yun added.
Lee Jong-won, a professor at the graduate school of Asia Pacific studies at Waseda University in Tokyo, said South Korea and Japan had finally removed “the greatest obstacle” in their relationship in a symbolic manner, as the breakthrough comes just days before the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.
“It’s more of a symbolic move—they could have held the meeting in January or February next year, but it was important to move forward before the year ends,” Mr. Lee said. “This means relations are heading toward restoration—the issue now would be how public opinion responds to the resolution,” he said, and expects Ms. Park and Mr. Abe to meet soon.
The thaw in relations between Japan and South Korea is likely to be welcomed in Washington, which is looking to its partners in North Asia to counter an increasingly assertive China and threats from North Korea. The U.S. has long encouraged talks between the leaders of Japan and South Korea.
In 1993, Japan issued a statement extending its “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women, but South Korea has insisted that Japan’s previous apologies and compensation for victims were insufficient. Japan has maintained that the issue was settled when diplomatic ties were normalized in 1965, when Tokyo offered financial aid to South Korea in return for Seoul dropping all damage claims related to its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Abe has in the past also questioned whether comfort women were coerced and declined to personally apologize.
There are no reliable records on how many women were involved, but mainstream historians’ estimates range from 20,000 to 200,000. Many were from Korea, then a Japanese colony, as well as other Asian nations and a few Westerners. Despite differences in the historical details, former comfort women have provided consistent accounts of females as young as teenagers being coerced or tricked into joining the brothels. There are still 46 elderly Korean survivors.