A pact Tokyo and Seoul had hoped would bring a definitive resolution to the wartime “comfort women” issue is instead stirring controversy in South Korea’s parliament.
Leveraging their newfound parliamentary strength following April’s general election, in which the ruling Saenuri Party failed to secure a majority, the opposition is turning up the pressure on President Park Geun-hye’s government by proposing a resolution to nullify the agreement.
The agreement was endangered from the beginning: the Japanese payment of $9.75 million wasn’t enough to convince many Koreans that Tokyo felt real remorse. Indeed, the arrangement was clearly intended to put the problem in the past so that both countries could move ahead on pressing security concerns. Many Koreans saw right through it, and the opposition jumped on President Park’s plans to cut budgets for “comfort women”-related projects a few days ago. As the Korea Times reported:
The budget cut appears to be in line with an agreement with Tokyo last year to “finally and irrevocably” resolve disputes on the issue.
Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the budget cut has nothing to do with the Seoul-Tokyo agreement, but there are many signs showing that the Korean government is trying to keep the issue at arm’s length.
Both countries do indeed have an interest in moving on. With China and North Korea both threatening regional stability, Tokyo and Seoul need to work together. But a “comfort women” arrangement that doesn’t satisfy South Koreans isn’t going to help everyone get along better. Indeed, if this deal falls apart, that could imperil progress both sides have made on other issues. It remains to be seen if that will happen, or if this latest controversy is merely the result of partisan politics.