Japan recalls South Korea envoy over ‘comfort women’

[Original Article: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/01/japan-recalls-south-korea-ambassador-comfort-women-170106054414090.html]

Publication Date: 6th January 2017

A bronze statue, in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, depicting a young girl with a bird on her shoulder symbolize the comfort women of Korea. Who were girls forced into sex slavery during the Japanese Occupation.

Tokyo has recalled its ambassador to South Korea to protest against the placing of a statue symbolising victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery outside Japan’s consulate in the city of Busan.

Talks between the two countries over a new currency swap agreement have also been suspended due to the statue, according to Japan’s chief government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga.

“The Japanese government will continue to strongly urge the South Korean government as well as municipalities concerned, to quickly remove the statue of the girl,” Suga said on Friday.

The move may reignite the decades-old feud over victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery, usually referred to as “comfort women”.

The statue – a copy of one that sits across the road from the Japanese embassy in Seoul – was initially removed after being set up by South Korean activists in the southern port city on Wednesday last week.

But local authorities did not stop the activists from putting it back after Japan’s Defence Minister Tomomi Inada offered prayers at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo last week.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism for girls and women, from South Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere, forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels. South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims.

Activists placed the new statue outside the consulate to mark their opposition to a South Korea-Japan agreement reached a year ago to finally resolve the “comfort women” issue.

Both nations agreed to put the issue behind them after Japan formally apologised and paid out one billion yen ($8.6 million) to surviving Korean comfort women.

However, critics of the deal say it does not go far enough in holding Japan responsible for its wartime abuses.

South Korea criticised Japan, saying Friday’s decision was “highly regrettable”.

“Even if there are difficult issues, the governments of both countries must continually develop South Korea-Japan relations based on a relationship of trust,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statue in Seoul – a bronze of a young, seated woman with a small bird on her shoulder – has proved an extremely potent and popular symbol.

Japan says it should have been removed after the “comfort women” accord was signed, but Seoul argued that it had only agreed to look into the possibility of moving it.

For the past year, activists have maintained a 24-hour vigil to prevent the statue being taken away.

More than two dozen similar monuments have been erected around South Korea, and another dozen or so abroad in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

Personal Insights:

Japan and South Korea have always had an awkward relationship with each other. While both are among the most economically developed countries in Asia, and share similar cultures and history, their relationship is forever in the shadow of the Japanese Occupation.  Much like the one in Singapore, the Japanese Occupation in South Korea is one that is marked with torture, cruelty and torment. Among the thousands of civilian victims one group particularly stands out- the comfort women.

Now, it is important to note that ‘comfort women’ is not a concept that is isolated to nor invented by the Japanese. In fact, all throughout history- especially during times of war- there are always cases of young women being forcefully taken away from their homes to serve in military brothels. These brothels were meant to satisfy the lust of these soldiers who were away from home and were consistently subjected to the terrors of war. Hence, women were treated as objects meant to satisfy these men. They were denied basic rights and were often subjected to not only the humiliating tasks but were often also physically abused.

Therefore, it is natural that the South Korean’s have been relentless in their fight to ensure that justice is given to these comfort women who had to endure immeasurable tortures as military prostitutes. Though in the past Japan was reluctant to address this issue- which only incited more protests from local civil rights groups. It is evident that in 2015, Japan had acknowledged their mistakes and wished to compensate these comfort women. South Korean activists may claim that the 1 billion yen and verbal apology by Abe is not enough- however I feel that their continual push for more reparations from the Japanese government is going too far.

Yes, these women have been wronged. Yes, they deserve justice. Yes, the stories of these women should not be stifled. However, for years South Korean activists have been fighting for compensation and an apology. Now, that that has been given they want more- in fact they have found a new found confidence in pursuing the matter further. But the question is, what more do they want?

I scoured through article, after article and still cannot grasp what more do activists want from the Japanese government. Yet, these actions are causing unnecessary strain between Japan and Korea. Both countries have already decided to close the matter but the persistence of these activists is forcing the book wide open again. I personally find that this is unnecessary and extremely selfish of these activists. They illegally erect monuments and continue to lead protests- but what for? What more can Japan offer?

Hence, I believe that this is a classic case for the argument that ‘politics should be left to the politicians’. Due to the active involvement of civic groups fighting for these ‘comfort women’ whose overdue issues have been resolved it is inhibiting the progress of relations and diplomacy between the two states. Japan was forced to recall two of their diplomats as a response to these protests. The South Korean public obviously do not understand the implications behind their self-righteous protests and neither do they consider how these protests will have a spill over effect to South Korea’s capability to maintain good foreign relations with Japan.

Why are these protesters like this though? South China Morning Post actually makes a brilliant argument, highlighting how heavy South Korean censorship have led to a very biased presentation of the the history of comfort women in South Korea. This means that many South Koreans are actually deeply entrapped in a volatile echo chamber- which could be devastating as this ignorance will only lead to more protests that will only sour relations between Japan and South Korea further. [Find the article here

Therefore, in conclusion, I believe that while the comfort women do deserve justice, it is time to put this matter to rest. Because compensation has been awarded and there is nothing more the Japanese government can do to further display their sincerity. Continuing this conflict would be meaningless as it has already reached the end of it’s shelf life. Instead, I believe that activists should be focusing on catering to the needs of these comfort women. It is time for them to help these comfort women move on from their dark past- instead of consistently re-opening their old wounds- and look towards the future with more hope and joy.

Post By: Christine Ow


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