The hard part starts now
Mixed reactions emerged after Monday’s landmark deal between Korea and Japan over the thorny issue of former sex slaves. Some regard it as acceptable - albeit not fully satisfactory - while others simply dismiss it. Opponents think the agreement is a humiliating deal because both sides hastily declared an end to the controversy without giving Japan legal responsibility for the tragedy during World War II. A local civic group in support of the 46 remaining “comfort women,” who are mostly in their late 80s, vehemently resents the deal calling it “diplomatic collusion betraying the hopes of the victims and the public.”
On the governmental level, the issue may have been settled through the agreement on Monday. But on the part of the victims and the public, it’s not over yet. The government must persuade those victims of the virtues of the agreement and draw public understanding and support, a tough challenge for President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the orchestrators of the deal.
Park has kicked off a campaign to persuade Korean people to accept the results of the deal given the urgency and realities involved in the issue. The president sent two vice foreign ministers to surviving comfort women to persuade them, but had to face strong complaints about how they weren’t consulted in the first place.
As a foundation for those victims is to be established in Korea with Japanese government funds, the president must make effort to help them restore their honor so that they can feel they’ve been treated well by the government. On the issue of relocating the statue across from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the government must respect opinions of the victims and civic groups.
For his part, Abe must demonstrate sincerity through actions, not words. If he believes the issue has been resolved through mere rhetoric and the writing of a check, a strong backlash will make his “final and irreversible settlement” even harder to accept. In Monday’s deal, Japan stipulated the government’s accountability for the mobilization of sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army, together with a deep remorse in the name of the prime minister. Abe and his Cabinet must keep in mind that if they raise any doubt over the forced recruitment of the sex slaves or make remarks avoiding government culpability, the issue will never be put to rest.
The deal should also be in Japan’s history textbooks. Teaching the next generation about their shameful past is the best way to recover the victims’ dignity and heal their wounds.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 30, Page 34