The clock is ticking“This year, two of the victims have passed away without having their life-long trauma cured. The average age of remaining 53 victims is nearly 90, and we don’t have much time to reinstate their honor,” President Park Geun-hye said in her speech earlier this year to commemorate the March 1st Independence Movement. She pressed the Japanese government to come up with a resolution of the wartime sex slavery problem that has brought relations between the neighboring countries to a low ebb. The human rights issue of the “comfort women” is a historic task that must be resolved as Korea and Japan move on to the future.
Four months passed, and on June 11, 91-year-old Kim Dal-seon passed away in Pohang, North Gyeongsang, and 81-year-old Kim Oi-hwan passed away in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, within half an hour of each other. On May 27, 91-year-old Lee Hyo-sun passed away in Changwon, South Gyeongsang. Their tragic lives ended without their receiving an official apology from Japan. Not much has changed after the March 1st address.
At an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of Korea-Japan relations in Tokyo on June 22, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shouted out the slogan, “Let’s Open the New Future Together.” He emphasized the future without the past. In Seoul, President Park said, “It is important to put effort into putting away heavy baggage from the past with the mindset of reconciliation and mutual prosperity.”
The hardline attitude in the March 1st address has softened. The sense of crisis to prevent further aggravation of the bilateral relations seems to have pushed the comfort women issue from the limelight.
Two days later, on June 24, 83-year-old Kim Yeon-hee passed away in Suwon, Gyeonggi. She was a fifth-grader when she was taken to an airplane parts factory in Toyama Prefecture, Japan, and was put to forced labor. Later, she suffered forced sex slavery in Aomori Prefecture. How would she have felt if she had listened to Park’s “reconciliation and mutual prosperity” speech and Abe’s emphasis on “the new future?” Could she rest in peace? It is frustrating and upsetting.
On June 21 Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se had the first meeting in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida. He told Korean correspondents in Japan, “Meaningful progress on the comfort women negotiations is being made in a bigger frame.” He did not mention specifics and was unclear about when a solution might come. The government is basically asking the citizens not to fret and towait longer.
Of course, the comfort women negotiations are not easy. Domestic politics in both countries are a factor. But we really don’t have much time left. Among the 238 comfort women registered with the government, only 49 are alive. Rather than dedicating flowers on their graves, it is more urgent to bring the resolution they deserve while they are alive. The government must push more.
The author is the Japan correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 30, Page 30
by LEE JEONG-HEON