Japan And South Korea: Working Together Despite Korean Comfort Women Controversy

South Korea and Japan must work together to avoid being victims of North Korean bombs.

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But a statue in Seoul, South Korea, across from the Japanese Embassy is causing embarrassment for Japan. The statue reminds passers-by of the thousands of South Korean comfort women created by the Japanese to please their soldiers when they ruled Korea between 1910 and the end of World War II in 1945. However, for the two nations to deal with their current threat they have to find a way to put the issue of the Korean comfort women behind them.

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic group, put up the sculpture several years ago.

These days a growing number of South Korean keep a vigil next to the statue. Two weeks ago, the NGO, Committee of Youth for Erecting a Peace Movement, put another statue in South Korea’s second largest city, Busan, outside the Japanese consulate there. Initially, the local government had it removed. When Tomomi Inada, the Japanese Defense Minister, visited the Japanese war heroes memorial, the Yasukuni Shrine, and reportedly acted inappropriately, the statue was reinstalled.


This caused outrage in Japan and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, ordered the top diplomats in both cities to return home. The Japanese government also threatened to end an agreed upon currency swap designed to protect the Korean currency from instability. The Japanese government felt betrayed and were angered because a year ago they apologized for the shameful way the comfort women were treated and paid the 50 surviving victims an indemnity as part of a ‘final and irrevocable settlement’.


Many Koreans didn’t like the deal. The money was declined by some of the comfort women. Two months later, a movie showing the suffering the comfort women endured called ‘Sprits’ Homecoming’ became a box-office hit. In its first week it drew 1.7 million viewers, perhaps because the settlement was so unpopular. Based on the comfort women testimonies and countless comfort women stories, the movie took 14 years to make. Film-maker Cho Jung Rae used donations from 75,000 people to raise the funds to make it.


Many Koreans now feel compelled to show their sadness over the suffering of the thousands of Korean women that were raped. The Busan statue was erected on Dec 28, the one year anniversary of Japan and South Korea’s “final settlement”. The statue in Busan may come down soon. But some say the volunteers keeping watch over the statue in Seoul are increasing and being given food and money. And with elections looming, the government may leave it in place to placate the masses and gain their votes.


With the South Korean economy struggling, its female president Park GeunHye on shaky ground, opposition parties being opposed to the ‘settlement, rising unemployment among the young, Samsung’s problems, pressure from China about South Korea’s US-made Thaad missile system and Japan’s perceived prosperity, South Koreans are in no mood to oblige Japan. Japan is calling for South Korea to uphold their agreement to remove the statues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces the embarrassment giving a financial settlement and apologizing for Japan’s past mistakes, yet having it thrown in their faces daily.


In the face of all of this, Japan and South Korea are allies. Their cooperation and intelligence sharing is vital for the safety of both countries in the face of North Korea’s alarming actions and President Donald Trump’s unpredictability. Addressing their painful past may have to be put on hold while they integrate their weapons systems to ensure the safety of their citizens.

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