Japan Reaches Agreement with South Korea over Handling of Comfort Women

newsonjapan.com -- Feb 18
Japan has gracefully apologized to the women of South Korea who once served as sex slaves to the Japanese Army during World War II.

The Japanese government has announced that they will pay 1 billion yen - the equivalent of $8.3 million or Y5.6 million - to the victims. This is the amount that South Korea had asked for.

The root of the issue was Japan's use of South Korean women as "comfort women" during the war. This - the issue of comfort women that Japan had been working on addressing for decades - has caused strained ties between the two countries, with South Korea demanding compensation and stronger apologies.

To date, there are only 46 surviving victims in South Korea.

Japan's announcement was made after a meeting between Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, in Seoul. Mr. Kishida offered an apology during the meeting.

This was followed by a phone call from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan to President Park Geun-hye of South Korea.

Speaking to reporters, Abe said that both countries are transitioning into a new era and that the issue should not be imposed upon the succeeding generation.

Park has also issued a separate statement, stating that the completion of the deal was urgent since most of the victims are already of advanced age, and many have already passed.

Estimates place the number of women forced into the practice at 200,000 during the Second World War. Many of these women were from Korea; others were from China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

Terms of the Agreement

Once the compensation is received, the government of South Korea will administer the distribution of the funds. The payment comes with the agreement that an apology will be made by the Japanese prime minister and the acceptance of the South Korean government of Japan's "deep responsibility" regarding the issue. Only when Japan has fulfilled its promises will South Korea consider the matter as completely resolved.

A statue that symbolizes comfort women still stands in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Erected in 2011 by activists, the statue will only be removed after consideration by the South Korean government. Both Japanese and South Korean governments also agreed to avoid public criticism of each other regarding the issue.

There is no explicit clause in the deal that states whether the victims will be paid directly. However, it did state that the fund will provide support for projects that will aid in the recovery of the honor of the victims and heal their psychological wounds.

This did not sit well with some of the victims. Lee Yong-soo, 88, expressed doubt on the purpose of the deal - if it were really made in favor of the victims. She also opined that the Japanese government should also offer "direct official" compensation.

Another 88-year-old victim, Yoo Hee-nam, also said that she couldn't possibly be fully satisfied because she was deprived of her basic rights. However, since her government had worked hard to finally settle the issue, Ms. Yoo said she was willing to follow what the government wants.

Some Japanese, however, are not too keen on the idea of compensation and apology, feeling like their country lost. Nobuo Ikeda, a Japanese journalist, felt that South Korea holding out on the removal of the statue is not a "diplomatic negotiation."

The deal, however, is considered symbolic since resolving it before the year ends will also coincide with the 50th anniversary of the countries' diplomatic relations. Some critics say that a breakthrough is difficult to reach regarding such a polarizing issue and that the act of the deal may be simply symbolic.

Although Japan has admitted responsibility, it is unclear if it was made legal or merely a humanitarian act. The compensation of 1bn yen was also considered as an aid to the women but not as compensation from the government. Many of the surviving victims have also demanded that Japan apologize specifically to them and offer direct compensation. Initially, Japan was supposedly mulling over the payment of just 100 million yen.

Although Japan has apologized for allowing Japan comfort women, it also refused to provide a large compensation. The government argued that diplomatic ties built in 1965, along with over $800 million in loans and economic aid it gave to South Korea, already sufficed.

In 1995, a fund was set up for the victims. The support continued for ten years, but it was funded by private donations and not by the Japanese government.