On December 28, 2015 the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan held a meeting to finally put to rest the issue of South Korean “comfort women.” The two countries have made many attempts over the years to arrive at solutions to satisfy both sides regarding the comfort women stories. South Korea felt the Japanese owed the women an apology and compensation to take responsibility for comfort women testimonies of pain, distress and hardship. The Japanese felt the South Koreans had been using this issue as political leverage as Tokyo had made many attempts to rectify the situation. The meeting was held at the House of Sharing, a shelter in Gwangju, South Korea that houses former Korean comfort women. Women from South Korea that were somehow coerced into providing services in Japanese brothels during times of war were given this label. According to activists in South Korea, there were approximately 200,000 women who were forced into the brothels but only about 238 of that number revealed themselves as belonging to this group. There are 46 known remaining survivors and typical age among the group is 89.
An agreement was reached whereby an apology was given by Japan and a promise of $8.3 million to provide assistance to former South Korean comfort women. The countries will work together on a program to re-establish respect and esteem. In light of overcoming the hurdles of difficult negotiations to solve this longstanding acrimonious issue between the two countries, Korean President Park Geun-hye is hoping they can get past their differences and start anew and build trust. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agrees and they are both using this opportunity to improve relations.
The timing of the negotiation was desirable according to former Japanese diplomat Kunihiko Miyake, as Japan wanted to find a solution to the conflict in the year 2015 as it was the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two and South Korea wanted the resolution before the next parliamentary election.
There’s also the issue of a statue that was erected in the vicinity of the Japanese embassy in Seoul by a South Korean group. The statue symbolizes this group of women and has been a source of annoyance and vexation for Tokyo. South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun-Byung-se stated however, that Japan’s concerns are recognized and they will address the issue with the responsible parties.
The United States had been applying pressure to both sides and is supportive of the resolution as South Korea and Japan are major allies of theirs, and are critical in the US’ dealings with China and North Korea. The ongoing tensions between South Korea and Japan have impacted their ability to share sensitive military information. At that point, all security information was being passed along to the United States by each country, instead of to each other. The US would then send Japan’s information to South Korea and vice versa. A senior U.S. Department of State official is warning that all three countries need to cooperate fully and share all security information, especially in light of the potential danger of North Korea’s nuclear program.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is also supportive of the agreement. Mr. Ki-moon is a former South Korean foreign minister. He expects the relations between the two countries to benefit from resolution of this issue.