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Pacific Problems
“Comfort Women” Deal In Peril?

Japan–South Korea relations might be looking friendlier, but one of the cornerstones of their new partnership is already starting to crumble. The Nikkei Asian Review:

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.

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  • Jim__L

    Again, why did anyone think that women who were ashamed of being forced to have sex for money would be satisfied if given more money?

    • Andrew Allison

      I don’t think anybody has actually asked the women (most of whom, incidentally, were not paid for their services) — it’s a cause celebre. In May 2013, there were just 59 known Korean survivors and, if is to believed, they want an apology, not money.

      • f1b0nacc1

        You have put your finger on it….the Japanese do not want to apologize and accept responsibility for what they did, and the South Koreans (or at least a big piece of them) don’t want to give up their longstanding hate of all things Japanese.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    These Asian Cultures can nurse a grudge for a long time, long past the time when all those involved have long pasted away. WWII ended in 1945, 71 years ago.

    • f1b0nacc1

      See my comment to Andrew above.
      Hating Japan is a popular sport in South Korea, not entirely without reason. The Japanese still refuse to accept any real responsibility for what they did in the first half of the 20th century, and that is not helping matters. These two sets of irrational behavior aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, sad to say….

      • Tim Godfrey

        The ‘japan has not apologized’ narrative is a falsehood spread by political actors that have no interest in an apology. The main difference between German and Japan is in Europe the victims of Germany’s aggression desired reconciliation and were willing to accept apologies. We saw how Greeks starting talking like Koreans as soon as it was in the self interest to do so. The fact that other SE Asian countries seem to have reconciled with Japan is further evidence that the problem is not with Japan.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The Japanese have expressed ‘regret’ for the circumstances, and offered to make amends, but never apologized (note: while not an expert translator, the words have VERY different meanings for the Japanese), and have continued to avoid any admission of responsibility (i.e. “yes, we did it, but we were provoked”, or small variations on that theme). This fools absolutely no one, and to pretend otherwise is simply dishonest.
          Germany, on the other hand, apologized, acknowledged responsibility, and took immediate and aggressive steps to make amends which they have continued to this day. The behavior of the Greeks says more about them than it does about the Germans (note that most of the rest of Europe had their own ugly behavior to cover up, and tended to avoid getting too deeply into finger pointing for just that reason).
          As a final point, very few SE nations have ‘reconciled’ with Japan as much as they have decided to decline discussion of the subject. Japan’s enormous economic footprint has made that a pragmatic choice, and one that I tend think was a wise one. I do NOT support Korea’s ‘waving the bloody shirt’ at every conceivable opportunity, but as they were under Japanese control for about 50 years, and suffered rather uniquely at their hands, I would argue that their circumstances are somewhat different.

          • Tim Godfrey

            You claims about the nature of the apologies is false:

            There are numerous unequivocal apologies that do not make excuses.
            Japan has spend trillions of yen on overseas development and reparations since WW2.
            At least as much – if not more than Germany.

            There is simply no case to be made that the Japan can do any more than it already has.
            The problem rests with the Koreans and Chinese constantly ‘waving the bloody shirt”.
            It is pointless for Japan to do anything more.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Nice try, but no, those aren’t unequivocal apologies, and they do not take responsibility for the specific acts (notably war crimes) that Japan committed. Japanese historians, textbooks, and political figures regularly provide numerous excuses for Japanese behavior during the war, and often simply deny that these things occurred. The recent debate about the comfort women alone should give lie to this sort of alibi making.

            Keep trying though…perhaps you can keep yourself convinced, you aren’t doing much for anyone else.

          • Tim Godfrey

            Political figures can’t give long convoluted apologies. They sound insincere for starters and take too long.
            The apologies are unequivocal as far as I am an concerned because they do not try to evade responsibility.

            That said I understand that someone who has decided to find fault with the Japanese no matter they do would claim they are not good enough because nothing would ever be ‘good enough’

            Furthermore, the ‘waving the bloody shirt’ phenomena means the facts of what occurred are not clear. I don’t trust the Chinese or Korean claims wrt the war crimes any more than I trust the claims of Japanese nationalists.

            The Japanese tried to collaborate with the Chinese on a joint statement of the facts based on historical evidence but the Chinese rejected the effort once they realized that the Japanese were not going to simply accept their gross exaggerations.

            Bottom line: apologies are pointless if the the other party has no interest in accepting an apology.

          • f1b0nacc1

            So now we have moved from ‘they made apologies’ to ‘well, they cannot be expected to make sincere apologies..’,… You might want to consider a career in goalpost moving….
            I have spent quite a bit of time in Japan and have worked with Japanese most of my life. Conversations with them at WWII are fascinating, if only because of their consistent disinclination to accept any real responsibility for their actions, or even to acknowledge that their actions were indeed wrong. A great deal of this is of course due to the ‘face culture’ problem, but even more is their educational system which whitewashes WWII to an astonishing degree.
            Regarding the Chinese and Korean claims, you disgrace yourself. There are numerous third parties who confirm the truth of the Japanese crimes, and the evidence is simply overwhelming. Are they all in on the conspiracy? American historians from the cold war era (when Japan was a trusted ally and the Chinese were the Red Menace) confirmed the truth of Japanese atrocities…what motive did they have to lie?
            Wasting my time with the Pacific version of a Holocaust denier isn’t my style. We are finished here.

    • Andrew Allison

      The Sunnis and Shiites have been at each others throats since the 7th Century.

  • Tim Godfrey

    I was surprised to find out that Vietnam has a complaint about South Koreans using vietnamese ‘confort women’:

    South Korean troops were hampered by their lack of command of any of the major languages in the country or among their allies. They were also accused of war atrocities, and are known to have left behind thousands of children of mixed Korean and Vietnamese descent.[5]

    Strongest evidence yet that it is insincere exercise in politics on the part of the Koreans and there is absolutely nothing the Japanese could do to resolve it.

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