South Korea and Japan leaders are at odds over an agreement they entered in 2015 aimed at resolving the issue surrounding ‘comfort women‘ as well as coming up with relations focusing on the future. The leaders are expected to opt for a dual-track kind of approach thereby ensuring that the rift will not in any way undermine their cooperation on how they deal with North Korea. In the first meeting between the two leaders, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, the latter maintained that South Koreans would not accept the deal that was struck by his predecessor, Park Geun-hye. The two leaders met during the Group of 20 Summit that was held in Hamburg, Germany and it is not yet clear whether the president wished to renegotiate the agreement then or not.
President Moon had over his presidential campaigns promised to renegotiate the Korean comfort women agreement, an euphemism by Japan used for the women and girls that were forced into their military brothels during the wartime. This was during the colonial rule of Japan over the Korean Peninsula from 1910 – 1945. A poll conducted by Gallup Korea in the month of February showed that 70% of the people in South Korea wished for the renegotiation of the accord. The renegotiation was meant to finally resolve the issue irreversibly. However, President Moon has steered clear of the renegotiation talks from May 10 when he assumed power.
President Moon revealed to The Washington Post in an exclusive interview that the country should not block the development of other bilateral relations on the account of the South Korean comfort women issue. Various experts hold the view that calling for the renegotiation could worsen the dispute and hurt ties that have been running for long. Most feel that this is not the right time for such talks especially when the two countries are expected to coordinate closely with the United States in countering the missile and nuclear threats by North Korea. A section of South Koreans do not view China as a dependable strategic partner. This is after China retaliated against them for deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, a U.S. advanced defense system against missiles. In addition, Beijing seems reluctant to enforce harsh sanctions against Pyongyang.
Importance of Implementing the Korean Comfort Women Agreement
In a meeting held in Washington on June 26, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama emphasized the importance of implementing the comfort women agreement. Brad Glosserman, the executive director of a think tank based in Hawaii, Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies, opined that President Moon was in the process of finding a solution. Mr. Glosserman stated that President Moon was putting the national interests over the comfort women stories. He said Moon was trying to weigh the best way to satisfy both the emotional needs of his people as well as those of national security. Glosserman believes the president is using a dual-track type of approach that seeks to put history and security on both sides as there is the throbbing issue of North Korea that should be dealt with first.
Defusing the Korean Comfort Women Issue
At the moment, North Korea has so much fissile material to build more nuclear heads than it did a year ago. Seoul is on the other hand looking at ways of defusing the South Korean comfort women issue. The Foreign Ministry of South Korea plans to establish a task force to review the comfort women testimonies and how the deal was struck. Japan has already disbursed around $9 million to a fund in South Korea to offer support to the women who survived the ordeal.