Yes, yes, you read the title correctly. I’m deviating from the focus of this blog again. The article is on Korean Comfort Women and the diplomatic deal between Japan and South Korea. Most of the Comfort Women were Korean, however, they were from all over Asia, including China.
The contents of this ground-breaking deal are in the NY Times article below. Once you reach the part about Japan wanting the bronze statue of the young Korean girl to be removed, the NY Times article lacks depth about it, so I found a Reuters article that focuses more on the perspective of what the statue stands for and those involved in getting it there – be made and strategically placed. The Reuters article is insightful, and is pasted after the NY Times article.
Japan and South Korea Settle Dispute Over Wartime ‘Comfort Women’
SEOUL, South Korea — More than 70 years after the end of World War II,South Korea and Japan reached a landmark agreement on Monday to resolve their dispute over Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army.
The agreement, in which Japan made an apology and promised an $8.3 million payment, was intended to remove one of the most intractable logjams in relations between South Korea and Japan, both crucial allies to the United States. The so-called comfort women have been the most painful legacy of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, which lasted from 1910 until Japan’s World War II defeat in 1945.
The Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers, announcing the agreement in Seoul, said each side considered it a “final and irrevocable resolution” of the issue.
The United States has repeatedly urged Japan and South Korea to resolve the dispute, a stumbling block in American efforts to strengthen a joint front with its Asian allies to better cope with China’s growing assertiveness in the region, as well as North Korea’s attempt to build a nuclear arsenal.
“The issue of ‘comfort women’ was a matter which, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, severely injured the honor and dignity of many women,” the foreign minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, said on Monday, as he read from the agreement at a news conference in Seoul. “In this regard, the government of Japan painfully acknowledges its responsibility.”
Mr. Kishida also said that his boss, 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.”
Mr. Abe later called Ms. Park to deliver the same apologies, Ms. Park’s office said.
“I hope that the two countries will cooperate closely to build trust based on this agreement and open a new relationship,” she was quoted as telling Mr. Abe. Ms. Park, who had refused to hold a summit meeting with Mr. Abe until last month, has repeatedly urged Japan to address the grievances of comfort women before the neighbors can improve ties.
Although Japan had previously apologized, including in a 1993 statement that acknowledged responsibility for the practice, the agreement on Monday signaled a compromise for Mr. Abe.
As recently as last year, under pressure from his right wing to scrap the apology, Mr. Abe and his conservative political allies agreed to review the evidence that led to it.
Under the agreement, the Japanese government will give the $8.3 million to a foundation that the South Korean government will establish to offer medical, nursing and other services to the women.
That Tokyo will provide money directly from the national budget is a potentially significant departure. A previous fund created after the 1993 apology, the Asian Women’s Fund, relied on private donors and was never fully accepted in South Korea. Although 60 former comfort women from South Korea had received financial aid from the fund, many others refused to accept it.
Japan also won an important concession from Seoul, a promise not to criticize Tokyo over the comfort women again.
South Korean women, who said they were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Army during World War II, waiting to hear the outcome of a meeting between the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan in Gwangju, South Korea, on Monday. Credit Yonhap, via Associated Press
Historians say that at least tens of thousands of women, many of them Korean, were lured or coerced to work at brothels from the early 1930s until the end of World War II. The Korean women who survived the war had lived mostly in silence because of the stigma, until some of them began speaking out in the early 1990s.
A total of 238 former comfort women have since come forward in South Korea, but only 46 are still living, most of them in their 80s and 90s.
Initial reactions to the resolution from former comfort women in South Korea were far from welcoming.
“The agreement does not reflect the views of former comfort women,” said Lee Yong-soo, 88, during a news conference held after the agreement was announced. “I will ignore it completely.”
She said that the deal fell far short of the women’s longstanding demand that Japan admit legal responsibility and offer formal reparations.
“We are not craving for money,” she said. “What we demand is that Japan make official reparations for the crime it had committed.”
She said she also opposed the removal of a statue of a girl symbolizing comfort women that a civic group established in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in 2011. During negotiations, Japan insisted that South Korea remove the statue, and South Korea said on Monday that it would discuss the matter with the former sex slaves.
The civic group, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery in Japan, called Monday’s deal “shocking.”
“It’s a humiliating diplomacy for South Korea to give a bushel only to get a peck,” the group said in a statement. “The agreement is nothing but a diplomatic collusion that thoroughly betrayed the wishes of comfort women and the South Korean people.”
In a statement, Ms. Park appealed to South Koreans to accept the agreement in the broader context of the need to improve ties with Japan, a neighbor and important trading partner, adding that her government wanted to seal a deal before the aging women passed away.
Japan has maintained that all legal issues stemming from its colonial rule of Korea were resolved with the 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries. Negotiators from both nations forged a compromise with the vaguely worded agreement on Monday, which did not clarify whether the responsibility that the Japanese government acknowledged was legal or moral. Mr. Kishida made it clear on Monday that the money Japan was offering was not legal reparation.
The deal was announced after Mr. Kishida met with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, in Seoul. Their meeting came after 12 rounds of negotiations that the two governments have held since spring 2014 to narrow their gaps on the dispute.
Mr. Yun and Mr. Kishida said they hoped that the deal would open a “new phase” in bilateral ties, long strained over historical disputes stemming from colonial rule. They also said that Seoul and Tokyo would refrain from criticizing each other over the issue at the United Nations and elsewhere.
The initial reaction in Japan was generally positive. Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who made a historic apology in 1995 for Japan’s role in World War II that many conservatives opposed, said that Mr. Abe had “decided well.”
“It’s commendable that the Japanese government admitted responsibility,’’ he said at a news conference.
Tomomi Inada, a right-wing member of Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, suggested the deal would be worth it if it succeeded in putting the dispute to rest. “There is great meaning in achieving a final and irreversible resolution,” she said.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, welcomed the agreement but cautioned Mr. Abe’s government that any future support for revisionist causes could undermine it.
“We expect further constructive dialogue to prevent any backsliding,” the party said in a statement.
Tsuneo Watanabe, a senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, a research group, said Mr. Abe had chosen a pragmatic approach that elevated economic and security ties over the bristly historical revisionism he has sometimes championed.
“Team Abe is basically realist, though Abe himself has sometimes veered from that,” Mr. Watanabe said.
Stable relations with South Korea, he added, were vital to Mr. Abe’s most cherished foreign policy goal: nurturing alliances to counter the growing power of China. “Ultimately, Abe believes in the balance of power.”
But Hiroka Shoji, a researcher on East Asia at Amnesty International, said the agreement should not be the end of the road in securing justice for the former sex slaves.
“The women were missing from the negotiation table, and they must not be sold short in a deal that is more about political expediency than justice,” she said. “Until the women get the full and unreserved apology from the Japanese government for the crimes committed against them, the fight for justice goes on.”
Jonathan Soble contributed reporting from Nagano, Japan.
For Japan and South Korea, ‘comfort women’ bronze may test resolve
One test of the commitment by Japan and South Korea to resolve the “comfort women” issue may be the fate of a statue in front of Tokyo’s embassy in Seoul.
The bronze of a barefoot teenage girl in a traditional handbook dress, sitting on a chair with fists clenched on her lap and an empty chair beside her, has become a symbol of “comfort women”, as those who were forced to work at Japan’s wartime military brothels are euphemistically known.
For many Japanese officials, the presence of the 1.5 meter statue in front of the embassy is a symbol of South Korea’s unwillingness to lay the issue to rest as well as an affront to its national dignity that should not be permitted by Seoul.
“It is not something that friendly nations normally do,” said a former Japanese diplomat with experience in East Asia, asking not to be identified.
“Every Wednesday they have gatherings there protesting on the question of comfort women, in front of the embassy, and that reminds everyone, and that is not good,” the former Japanese diplomat told Reuters.
The two countries signed a landmark agreement on Monday to resolve the “comfort women” issue. Although South Korea did not agree to remove the statue, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said Seoul recognizes Japan’s concerns and will hold discussions with the group that erected it to address the problem.
But it will take an act of political courage in Seoul to relocate the artwork, which has served as a potent symbol of Japanese wartime aggression.
The group behind the statue, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, rejected Yun’s comments as “disgraceful” and “appalling.”
“We make it clear that the statue cannot be a condition for any kind of agreement or a tool,” the group said in a statement. “It is unacceptable for the government to talk about taking down or moving the statue.”
When it was erected in 2011, the statue galvanized public calls for Japan to make a fresh apology and properly compensate the victims.
The sculptors who created the bronze statue said they had been inspired by the decades-long struggle by “comfort women” seeking recognition and compensation.
“The statue is not intimidating at all. It is a girl sitting quietly there,” Kim Seo-kyung, a sculptor who built the statue with her husband, told Reuters. “Look at Germany. They apologize almost every day but Japan is talking about removing the statue at the negotiation table?”
Ahn Shin-kwon, director of the House of Sharing, home to 10 of the surviving women, said: “The statue should be there forever to remember the past.”
Japan will be looking to South Korea to accomplish the statue’s removal, but may be willing to give Seoul time.
“They (the civic group) have the right to resist because they were not fully involved in the agreement. But this is the job of the administration in Seoul,” said former Japanese diplomat Kunihiko Miyake.
“Is it a test? It is part of the deal, it’s a package, but it’s not simultaneous, it’s phased.”
Scholars continue to debate the number of women exploited. Activists in South Korea say there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims, only a few of whom came forward.
There are 46 surviving “comfort women” in South Korea, out of the 238 who had come forward to share their stories of abuse, many taken from their homes when they were in their teens and forced to work as sex slaves.
On Monday, the statue had a yellow woollen scarf around the neck and a brown cap on its head. The empty chair next to her symbolizes fellow victims who have passed away, said Kim, who spent about eight months to create the statue.
“Like the victims, the girl is not weak or too angry but is strong and never ashamed, looking at the Japanese embassy.”