Monday, December 28, 2015

Comfort Women Controversy between S. Korea and Japan Ended?

Today the Korean web began posting on the resolution for the many-decades long controversy between Korea and Japan on the topic of the Korean comfort women. There are many issues and strong points of controversy between South Korea and Japan and I'm wondering how "resolving" this issue will help resolve, or even antagonize, other issues between the two countries. Following is the first article I saw posted related to the resolution; it's also the article I see most re-posted so why not repost it yet again:

Japan and South Korea agree to settle wartime sex slaves row

Shinzo Abe offers sincere apology for use of ‘comfort women’ by Japanese soldiers, removing major barrier to better relations.

South Koreans who lost family members during the second world war demand full compensation and an apology from Japan in Seoul. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP
Japan and South Korea have removed the biggest obstacle to better bilateral ties after agreeing to “finally and irreversibly” resolve Tokyo’s use of tens of thousands of Korean women as wartime sex slaves.

In a breakthrough that barely seemed possible a few months ago, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered his “most sincere apologies” to the women in a statement issued in Seoul by his foreign minister, Fumio Kishida .

It was not immediately clear if Abe would send a letter of apology to each surviving “comfort woman”.

Later Monday, Abe called the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye , who has described the sex slave row as “the biggest obstacle” to improved ties with Tokyo, and reiterated his apology. He 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.

Speaking after make-or-break talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, Kishida heralded a new era of better relations between the two countries, whose strong trade ties and military alliances with the US have been overshadowed by the controversy.

“This marks the beginning of a new era of Japan-South Korea ties,” he told reporters. “I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a groundbreaking achievement.

“[Abe] expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

The Japanese government also conceded that its military authorities played a role in the sexual enslavement of the women. While avoiding any admission of legal responsibility, Kishida’s statement said: “The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honour and dignity of large numbers of women, and the government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.”

Abe and other conservative politicians in Japan had previously questioned whether the Japanese government and military played any role in coercing the women, arguing that they had been procured by private brokers.

Both countries said the agreement would resolve the issue “finally and irreversibly”, adding that they would refrain from making critical remarks on the subject at the United Nations and in other international forums.

Yun said Seoul would cooperate, as long as Japan followed through on its promises. He also suggested that South Korea was willing to negotiate the removal of a statue of a girl symbolising the comfort women that stands outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Although the statue belongs to privately run campaign groups, Yun said the South Korean government would “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organisations”.

There is disagreement on the exact number of women forced into prostitution by Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Campaigners say as many as 200,000 women – mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, south-east Asians and a small number of Japanese and Europeans – were forced or tricked into working in military brothels between 1932 and Japan’s defeat in 1945.

Most women took their secret to the grave. South Korean Kim Hak-soon became the first to testify about her experiences in public in 1991. “We must record these sins that were forced upon us,” she said.

South Korea has long called on Japan to issue an official apology, pay compensation to the surviving women and recognise its legal responsibility. Japan stopped short of admitting legal responsibility and stressed that the new fund was a humanitarian gesture.

The Japanese government initially denied the existence of wartime brothels. But in 1993, the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, acknowledged and apologised for the first time for Japan’s use of sex slaves.

Over the years, Japan has refused to directly compensate the women, saying all claims were settled in a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and included more than $800m in grants and loans to South Korea.

In 1995, it set up the privately run Asian women’s fund, which drew on private donations. But many women refused money unless it came directly from the Japanese state. Only about 260 former sex slaves received cash – worth about 2m yen each – and the fund was disbanded in 2007.

The agreement reached on Monday will be welcomed by the US, which has urged its two east Asian allies to settle their differences over second world war history and show a united front in the face of an increasingly assertive China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

In Beijing, the foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “We hope to see an improvement of the bilateral relationship between the Japanese and South Korean side.”

Hiroka Shoji , an east Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said: “Today’s agreement must not mark the end of the road in securing justice for the hundreds of thousands [of] women who suffered due to Japan’s military sexual slavery system.

“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. 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.”

The spread of frontline brothels coincided with Japan’s military campaigns in large parts of China and south-east Asia. As colonial ruler of the Korean peninsula, Japan was able to target poor and uneducated victims, typically aged between 13 and 19.

Speculation that a comfort women agreement was in the offing had risen following a bilateral meeting between Abe and Park in early November, their first for three-and-a-half years, and the decision by a South Korean court to acquit a Japanese journalist accused of defaming Park.

The South Korean president had voiced hope that a deal would be reached by the end of this year, 50 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

The Korean web is alive with comments and Facebook is filled with postings of the controversy finally being resolved, but there are questions about just what are the ethics employed in "resolving" this? What politics are driving sudden humanitarian apologies? Here's one of the earliest responses, published today also no less!

Apology Isn't Justice for Korea's 'Comfort Women'
By Noah Feldman

At long last, Korea's “comfort women” are getting a real apology from Japan's government for being forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II. But the moment is bittersweet, and not just because it’s taken 70 years. The apology comes not out of a change in Japanese sentiment, but from a change in geopolitics -- namely, the rise of China and the increasing need for Japan and South Korea to cooperate on mutual defense. And it comes at the price of a promise by the South Korean government not to criticize Japan over the issue again -- a trade of moral claims for compensation and finality.

The saga of the Japanese non-apology has had many twists and turns, demonstrating that in the contemporary political cultures of both Japan and Korea, apologies aren’t mere formalities but are laden with symbolic significance. A muted 1993 apology was accompanied by compensation from private donors and marked a refusal by Japan’s government to acknowledge its role in the sexual enslavement. Koreans got the point, and some women refused to take money from the fund.

The question of state responsibility has remained a sore point. A South Korean historian who has written about the role of private entrepreneurs in enslaving women during the war has been condemned by survivors who say she is minimizing the Japanese government’s guilt.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a strong nationalist, isn’t naturally inclined to apologize for Japan’s wartime atrocities. In the past, he’s angered Chinese and Koreans by visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including convicted war criminals.

What motivates Abe is the quest to improve Japan’s national security. China’s military expansionism is the main cause. Almost equally important is an accompanying perception that the U.S. may not be the strong protector it has traditionally been. Would the U.S. go to war to defend Taiwan from China? If the answer is no, then why would the U.S. go to war to protect Japan or South Korea? If there’s doubt about the U.S. commitment, Japan and Korea need each other.

The Pacific security arrangement is often described as a “hub and spokes” model, with the U.S. at the center. Abe is setting out to strengthen the ties between the spokes -- because he recognizes that the hub is not as willing a gravitational force as it once was.

In this increasingly uncertain Cool War environment, the perception of Japanese-Korean solidarity is an important aspect of Abe’s program. It’s why he was willing to pay the political price at home of an apology to the comfort women that accompanies an $8.3 million fund -- this time paid by his government. And as a nationalist, he can afford to draw on his store of right-wing credibility to buy political advantage.

But the apology and the money came with a price attached: South Korea’s promise that the issue of the comfort women would be settled once and for all, and that its government wouldn’t complain about it further. And Abe can tell his constituents that he has bought the Koreans’ silence, removing an argument that always came up when Japan was accused of being aggressive or nationalist.

That’s almost always how reparations, whether legally formal or (as in this case) informal, work in the real world: The wronged party gets compensation and an apology; the party that did the wrong gets a de facto promise that it won’t have to be reminded of what it did. Without this trade, countries wouldn’t voluntarily pay up, so it may seem naive to criticize the exchange, provided you think compensation is a good thing.

All tort settlements, even those between private parties, have something of this character. Compensation functions as corrective justice, and the injured party is expected to be satisfied by the deal.

But morally speaking, crimes against humanity aren’t the same as car accidents. Those who enslaved women during World War II weren’t being negligent; they raped and dehumanized these women in particular, and the status and fundamental rights of women everywhere.

Promising a form of silence about such crimes in exchange for an apology and compensation seems inadequate to the scope and meaning of the wrongdoing. During negotiations, Japan also sought the removal of a memorial statue in front of its embassy in Seoul. South Korea’s government promised to take up the issue with the survivors – implying a good-faith effort to make the memorial disappear.

Crimes against humanity are the world’s business. They shouldn’t be forgotten, and discussing as well as memorializing them shouldn’t be suppressed or discouraged.

The interest in keeping the memory of such crimes alive also extends to the victims themselves. Of course they’re entitled to compensation. But it feels wrong if they can only get it because their government has agreed to drop their case and, to a degree, is encouraging them to drop their efforts to shame the perpetrators.

The realities of international practice are inevitable and harsh. Individuals need states to prosecute claims against other states on their behalf. And once states are in the game, they’ll behave as states usually do: trading values and ideals and honor for advancement of their interests. But that doesn’t mean we always have to like it. The memory of terrible wrongs should be preserved, as a goad to stop them from happening again.

Our horror about the treatment of the comfort women should steel us to act on behalf of women kidnapped into sexual slavery by Islamic State and Boko Haram. No amount of reconciliation with the past should make us reconcile with those crimes of the present.

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