About a century ago, Asian and South Korean comfort women were taken into sex slavery during World War 2, by the Japanese Imperial Army. Comfort women is a translation from a Japanese term meaning a prostitute. Young women from countries under Japanese rulership were abducted from their homes or were lured with promises of work. Once taken, the women were imprisoned in a comfort station closest to them. The number of women that were abducted is still questioned, with numbers ranging between 20,000 and 410,000 women. The issue of the comfort women has been debated since the end of the war and still continues.
With a lack of formal agreement and changing political figures, history is still not resolved. On December 28, 2015, the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea reached a consensus on the comfort women case. The Japanese minister, Fumio Kishida, officially confirmed the existence of crimes committed by the Japanese army and the resulting moral and physical damage to the victim women. Besides that, Japan gave $9 million to a foundation in South Korea set up for former comfort women. On his turn, South Korean minister Yun Byung has agreed to forget the case and remove the comfort women statue placed in front of the Japanese embassy of his country.
While the agreement was settled at first, six months later both of the parties are unsatisfied with the outcome. Comfort women testimonies and comfort women stories have spread globally for the past decades. This growing publicity around comfort women makes things even more complicated and postpones the resolution of the disagreement between Seoul and Tokyo.
On Japan’s side, the agreement has improved the relationship with South Korea. Despite this, Abe, the prime minister of Japan, has shown his unchanging attitude on the case in his speeches, implying that the agreement is solely for improving relations with South Korea and that he does not acknowledge any Japanese involvement in sex slavery war crimes. Besides him, civilians in Tokyo have protested against the agreement. South Korea is not pleased with this reaction of the prime minister and the Japanese government overall.
South Koreans, on the other hand, are divided in opinion over the comfort women case. In polls, over 50 percent of citizens do not like the agreement, and 66% do not want the statue removed from the Japanese embassy. Young people are the most fervent supporters of the comfort women statue. Elections and the coming of political parties opposing the agreement have questioned its validity. Many Koreans believe that it is not thorough enough to cover-up the wrongdoings of the Japanese army. Currently, the South Korean government has given the case to the United Nations to be evaluated according to international human rights standards.
The comfort women statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul is not the only remembrance of the comfort women case. Many memorials outside of South Korea exist as well, which challenges the image of the Japanese government in front of the world. In the United States, the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues was set up to promote and spread the cause of the women who became sex slaves of the Japanese army. Thus, the Japanese government is increasingly distraught by the growing popularity of a cause that distorts its diplomatic image.
With all the factors complicating the comfort women case, the resolution will take some time. In order to come to an agreement, both countries must work together in order to save the political ties that are needed for both countries to prosper in their domestic affairs.