South Korea and Japan
“Comfort Women” Sue South Korean Government

A cornerstone of South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s effort to strengthen ties and focus on confronting China, the “comfort women” settlement has had a tough time, well, settling. In Japan, 49 percent of respondents to a recent poll said they opposed the deal. And in South Korea, seemingly no one thinks the one billion yen deal was enough. The Japan Times reports on the latest developments:

Twelve South Korean “comfort women” are taking their government to court over its agreement with Japan last year intended to end the bitter historical dispute over the women who were forced to serve at Japan’s wartime brothels.

The women filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the South Korean government for signing the agreement with Tokyo even though Japan refuses to acknowledge formal legal responsibility.

In the action filed with the Seoul Central District Court, the 12 plaintiffs each seek 100 million won ($90,000) in compensation, said a group called the Foundation for Justice and Remembrance for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery.

Any damage to the arrangement is bad news for Japan and good news for China. Indeed, the only reason the deal was struck in the first place (at considerable cost to both Abe and Park politically) was fear of both China and North Korea. It’s an effort to move ahead on what both leaders believe to be more pressing issues.

The frustration isn’t unexpected, and it’s probably not going to derail strengthening ties between the two countries. The threat of North Korea has only grown this year, and it shows no sign of abating. Meanwhile, China is getting more hawkish and seems less capable of restraining its unruly ally than ever. Those larger geopolitical forces push South Korea and Japan closer together.

Still, the dissatisfaction around the “comfort women” deal shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a reminder that any alliance between South Korea and Japan stands on shaky ground and should be monitored closely.

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