South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye continues the policies implemented by the Japanese and South Korean governments to give restitution to comfort women and their relatives. The plan to compensate women and their families began with a “final and irreversible” deal between Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on December 28, 2015. The plan continued to thrive, on July 28, 2016, with the implementation of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing, a NGO created to give assistance to those affected by the wartime offense. With the NGO in place, by August, Japan devoted about $9 million to the institution while South Korea offered close to $108,000. Funds will be used to support the surviving women and their families.
Despite the progress of the deal, there still has been several opposing voices that feel the compensation is not nearly enough for restitution. Many surviving women in sections of Korea demand an official apology and legal reprimands from the Japanese government. The women believe that the Korean government should not be the authority in determining how reparations are dealt with; rather the women’s demands should be heard. This is evident as weekly protests that have occurred since 1992 continue outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.
Civil Society groups such as the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan also oppose the deal. They have called the deal a “diplomatic humiliation” and created an opposing NGO, Foundation for Justice and Remembrance, to counteract the work done by the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing. The opposing foundation’s plans are to replace the government’s compensation with individual donations from Korean citizens. They also continue to place small statues of women around Asia and the world to remind people of the issue despite the agitation it causes the Japanese government.
The South Korean elections has also posed a problem in ensuring the deal’s success as the leading party lost its majority giving two opposing parties control of the parliament. The leader of the People’s Party and possibly the next president, An Cheol-soo, is one of the staunchest voices against the diplomatic deal. The new leader of the Minjoo Party, Choo Mi-ae also has expressed complaints about the deal. Both chairman and chairwoman have discussed the dismantling of the deal with President Park Geun-hye, which makes it difficult for her to finish its final stages as her term nears an end.
Although it seems much opposition still exists against the deal, there is almost no reasonable way to reverse it. The importance of the deal is too large for the Japanese and South Korean foreign relations, not just between the two countries but with the UN and with the Unites States. Western governments have far too long waited for an agreement between the two governments as a means to unite the Asian-Pacific and ensure stability in the region.
The problem of civil unrest still remains even as the issue between the two governments begins to resolve. It will be President Park’s task to give reassurance to South Korean resistance toward the deal. There is no doubt that the voices of those truly afflicted by Japan’s past decisions must be incorporated into the deal. Although the Japanese government has apologized and offered a tremendous compensation for the ordeal, more must be done to give final peace to those wounded. Both governments need to not just resolve this diplomatically but also domestically among their own citizens.