Trying To Turn The Page

South Korea and Japan have agreed to an aid package concerning the former country’s “comfort women, “ who were forced into sexual slavery during the 1930’s and 1940’s by the Japanese Imperial Army.  It sounds like a good thing, and not just for South Korea:

“[Japanese Prime Minister Abe] told reporters that the agreement was based on his commitment to stop future generations from having to repeatedly apologise. ‘Japan and South Korea are now entering a new era. We should not drag this problem into the next generation.’

Park issued a separate statement saying the deal was the result of her government’s best efforts to resolve the sex slave issue. ‘I hope the mental pains of the elderly comfort women will be eased,’ she said.

Japan also offered to set up a new 1bn yen (£5.6m) fund, with the money, paid directly by the government, divided among the 46 former comfort women still alive, most of whom are in their late 80s and early 90s.”

The larger political context is also interesting, and arguably a win for Obama’s Asian foreign policy “pivot” away from the Middle East:

“Park’s grudging shift on the comfort women issue appears to have followed key concessions from Tokyo, including the creation of a Japanese government-administered compensation fund and acknowledgement of the wartime military authorities’ complicity in enslaving the women.

But the shift is also the result of persistent, sometimes crude pressure from the Obama administration, impatient over perceived South Korean recalcitrance. There has been growing frustration in Washington, shared in Tokyo, that previous agreements ostensibly settling the comfort women issue have been disregarded by successive South Korean leaders who have tried to ‘move the goalposts’.

Earlier this year, Wendy Sherman, US under-secretary of state for political affairs, publicly scolded Seoul for provocative political opportunism, although Park was not mentioned by name. Sherman said: ‘Of course, nationalist feelings can still be exploited, and it’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress.’”

Obviously, don’t expect South Koreans and the Japanese to put aside their national animosities any time soon.  But the weekly comfort women protests in Seoul are a thing here in South Korea, and a tangible cash reward and a highly symbolic apology should carry some weight.  And if not, well, Abe (certainly no angel) has provided himself with the cover to effectively ask “What else can I possibly do?  Get over it.”

And The Guardian may have a point — this is a bigger “win” for Obama and Abe and their national security interests (long-term defense against Chinese expansion and the possibility of an unexpected North Korean attack) than it may be for Seoul.

Not that a billion yen divided among four dozen elderly folks is anything to scoff at, but the “bloody shirt” of the comfort women issue has effectively been defused for now.

The question remains though — is the apology sincere?  And the answer is an impossible one.  It isn’t good enough for lots of South Koreans (like, say, my boss) but then again, no apology from the lips of a Japanese leader ever possibly could be.

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This entry was posted in America, China, History, Japan, Korea, North Korea, Politics, South Korea. Bookmark the permalink.

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