Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Not So Final and Irreversible Resolution

This is a topic that I have hesitated to write about. Although the Japanese occupation of Korea ended seventy years ago, there are still survivors living to this day who have experienced horrors that many of us could not even begin to imagine. For them, the pain is still real and nothing -- no formal apologies or legal responsibility or monetary compensation -- could ever undo what happened to them.

Like many people, I thought that as long as President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo were heads of their respective states, because of their respective family histories, Korea-Japan relations were doomed to be stalled. So when I heard the news that both the Korean and Japanese governments have "finally and irreversibly" resolved a dispute over comfort women, I was shocked.

It has been such a constant presence that I never thought it would ever end. I was quite elated actually. It meant that a painful chapter in both countries' past has finally been closed and both countries would be able to move on to tackle present-day and future issues that are of mutual concern.

However, that old adage about things being too good to be true reared its ugly head.

For one thing, it turned out that the South Korean government had not bothered to include the former comfort women in the negotiations regarding the deal. Quite unsurprisingly, they did not take very kindly to that.

Another point of contention regarding the deal that both governments agreed to is that although the Japanese government has agreed to pay one billion yen (US$8.3 million) to the 46 surviving former comfort women, the Japanese government has refused to call that money "official compensation" because doing so would mean that the Japanese government would accept formal legal responsibility.

I suppose Abe does have to keep his supporters satisfied.

For the comfort women, this was a spit in the eye. They are right to be angry. I don't think anything can give them actual closure, but I think they've earned the right to stay angry.

But for everyone else... for the anti-Japanese crowd, it was an assurance that their reason for existing would not be taken out from underneath them. For the newly named (again) Together Democratic Party, it was yet another thing they could politicize in their desperate attempt to stay relevant. Never mind that Korea-Japan relations will remain at a gridlock. As long as their victims-r-us industrial complex has something to say and allows them to remain in the spotlight, who cares that economic and political cooperation between the two countries never get to see the light of day and both countries' relations get uglier and meaner?

However, the Park administration's tone deafness and the victims-r-us industrial complex are not the only reasons this deal is so bad.

For one thing, just as the news was being broadcast all over the world, Prime Minister Abe, being the paragon of class that he is, said:

“I mentioned it during my phone conversations (with Park on Monday). It was all over yesterday. No more apologies. This time Korea's foreign minister stated the deal is irreversible before TV cameras, which was then valued by the U.S. Now that things have come to this pass, if Korea breaks its promise, it is over as a member of the international community.”

 I don't know if I am being sensitive but that sounded like he was saying:

Image Source

On top of that, the Japanese government announced that the one-billion-yen fund to help the former comfort women would only be set up and distributed after the Comfort Women statue that faces the Japanese embassy in Seoul is removed.

And that makes it clear what the money is intended for. It is not intended to actually help the surviving comfort women; that's merely incidental. Rather it is really intended to erase history.

I have long regretted the sour turn in Korea-Japan relations and especially considering North Korea's bellicosity, China's expanding military, and the immense economic benefits that both countries can share with one another, I desperately wanted this deal to be the "final and irreversible" deal that was initially announced.

As bitter as it makes me feel to see this grotesque show continue to play into what appears to be forever, I say that Abe should keep his money and, at least until both Park Geun-hye and Abe Shinzo have left their respective posts, the statue stays.

Let the statue stay and remind everyone, not just the Japanese but also the Korean government and the perennially anguished crowd that neither integrity nor honor can be bought so easily.

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Well, in about twenty minutes, it will be 2016. Happy New Year, everyone. May 2016 be better than 2015 was.


  1. Insightful as always. Happy New Year.

  2. you know, initially I was thinking whether the deal was specifically signed with South Korea (and not half a dozen other countries where the comfort women hailed from) because the US is trying to use the issue as a way to shore up ROK-Japan relations in the face of Park's recent buddying up with China...but it seems like in the actual wording and implementation of it, Japan has used the opportunity much to pander to a more moderate side of the right-wing crowd. Surely Abe (and the US) will gain much political brownie points for this, but for the ROK govt, other Asian countries, and the comfort women themselves, the deal really cannot be seen as a "win" in anyway.