For about 30 years, there have been strained relationships between South Korea and Japan because of the so-called Comfort Women Japan issue. Although an agreement was reached in 2015, South Korea feels it is not enough and insists that Japan has never fully apologized. Japan sees as if South Korea isn't interested in reconciliation. The comfort woman statue in front of Japan's embassy in South Korea that was raised by activists several years ago has yet to be removed.
The Japan Comfort Women issue has serious economic and security implications for both countries. Japan needs to understand that the 2015 agreement isn't enough because reconciliation can't be forced on the victims, and South Korea needs to stop misusing its moral high ground. Mutual trust is required in the long term. The existing legal regimes can't fully provide for war compensation issues. Dignity should be restored to the victims, just like the case of the moral compensation that was provided to victims of Nazi Germany.
The support group for Korean comfort women has dogmatic compensation demands, and arguably exaggerates victimhood. This group suppresses alternative opinions from researchers, seeks the condemnation of Japan, and the denigration of the Japanese consulate.
About two-thirds of the surviving comfort women assented to the 2015 agreement, and they received cash from the foundation. However, the support group claims that the agreement doesn't take into account the victims' voices. This support group influenced the Korean government to unilaterally liquidate the foundation. This is something that Japan views as "moving the goalposts" so that to avoid reconciliation.
Korean society struggles to trust Japan's sincerity. The Japanese government said that it fulfilled its obligations by providing compensation in accordance with the 2015 agreement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that he would never write a letter of apology to Japanese Comfort Women. This was seen as a lack of "good faith attitude." Many say that the prime minister could have been more considerate.
Mutual empathy is required for South Korea and Japan to arrive at an understanding. Empathy is not blind sympathy. Rather, it is getting into the other person's shoes and seeing things from their angle. Empathy is an essential element of diplomacy.
At times, both governments have shown some empathy. Testimonies of former Comfort Women shocked Japanese leaders, and they decided to establish the Asian Women's Fund to offer moral reparations. The Korean government interpreted this move as sincere.
First, empathy involves understanding oneself. Secondly, it involves understanding the other person. Japan should appreciate that Koreans suffered an invisible injury as a result of Japanese domination for 35 years. This invisible injury makes the Koreans think in a certain way about Japan. However, the opinion of a small percentage of the Japanese population destroys all the sincere apologies that have been provided by the Japanese government.
On the other hand, Koreans need to realize that postwar Japan is a peaceful country and that many Japanese people, from younger people to former soldiers, recognize the apology and look forward to the healing of the victims. Koreans should understand that many Japanese people hope for peace, as evidenced by their donations to the Asian Women Fund. Korea needs to understand that the support group's extreme activities can hinder healing and reconciliation.
Should the current mutual distrust, which is a product of the lack of empathy, affect the future generations of South Korea and Japan? This would negate the hope of former Comfort Women that Japanese and Koreans would get along.
It will take time and effort from the leaders of Korea and Japan to build empathy for each other. In the short term, both countries must not let a standoff over historical differences be exploited by China and North Korea. Instead, they should continue looking for practical ways that they can work together.
Image by Lisy_ from Pixabay
The article makes a false equivalency. Japan hasn\'t engaged in wars since WWII but the rhetoric and indeed glorification of Japan\'s war involvement including Imperial Japan\'s alliance with Hitler\'s Germany is alive and well in contemporary Japanese politics. Japan\'s refusal to own up to its atrocities, let alone make amends with its neighbors is the crux of the problem. At best, Japan\'s argument regarding the Comfort Women issue is that brokers legally contracted impoverished 12 - 16 year old girls into prostitution for the Japanese military and that the now surviving Comfort Women from China, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, etc. are lying. The Asian Women Fund is funded by \'private doners\' along with the Government along with "statement of regret" rather than an official state apology. The numerous \'statements of regret\' were always made with denials about coercion, claims about the the women being well paid volunteer prostitutes. This is disgusting, sordid stuff.