There has been a lot of negativity regarding the relations with South Korea and Japan since 2013. Even when improvements were made for the 50th anniversary in 2015, frustration between the governments still existed due to the comfort women issue. The biggest problem is involving the responsibility of the Japanese to acknowledge women and girls were coerced to provide the military with sexual services in imperial Japan.
On December 28th, the testimonies of the Korean comfort women were taken into consideration, and a deal was made between Park Geun-hye and Abe Shinzo to resolve the issue. This was followed by suspicion on both sides and media scrutiny. Both countries finally agreed the issue had been settled with an irreversible and final decision provided Japan kept their promises. The South Korean government additionally agreed to acknowledge the concerns of the Japanese government regarding a statue honoring the comfort women in Seoul at the Japanese Embassy.
Both leaders are commended for their statesmanship and political leadership. It is believed Abe Shinzo has doubts as to the comfort women’s claims validity. He believed the legal claims had been put to rest in 1965 when the two countries relations were normalized. He felt Japan should look to the future, not the past regardless of the Korean comfort women testimonies. He acknowledged the responsibility of the Japanese, and tried to relieve the pain of the past. Park Geun-hye has bravely pursued finality and justice between the two governments, and looked to the Korean public for support and a solution to the issues. Many victims do not believe the issue can ever be granted forgiveness.
The only way success can be achieved by the Park administration is if the deal receives the Japanese governments cooperation and support. The foundation must be funded by Tokyo, and the steps for the funding allocation by Japan’s government must be taken before the April elections for the Korean National Assembly. The Abe administration must speak to the Japanese who are attempting the government from proceeding. A zero-tolerance policy for Government officials, top party members and Japanese cabinet members regarding any acts or statements that present a challenge to the agreement is a critical step.
The first challenge regards the statue honoring the comfort women. The statue was erected by civil society groups, and there was limited leverage regarding the Seoul government. The justification for forcibly removing the statue is extremely thin. The reaction of the Koreans regarding the agreement according to the polls show the public supports leaving the statue alone. Unless funds are given to the government of Korea by Japan in the establishment of the foundation, the support will continue to be strong. It will be fatal to the agreement if Japan attempts to change the sequence of actions agreed upon. The success regarding the statue depends on gaining the support of the comfort women. Due to the way the deal concluded, this has become much more difficult.
There was secrecy during the conduction of the negotiations. The comfort women had no say regarding the process, and were blindsided. This has caused them to issue more complaints about being victims. The problem is the Home Affairs and Government Administration of South Korea’s Ministry was where the comfort women contacted the government. This was excluded from the Blue House and Ministry of Foreign Affairs negotiations conducted with Japan.
The comfort women must be won over by the Park administration while support from the public is increased for a Japanese reconciliation. This would mean engaging the women in the establishment of the new foundation. It must be viewed not as the Korean governments, but theirs.