An agreement in jeopardyThe landmark deal between Korea and Japan over the thorny issue of sex slaves is facing a strong backlash in Korea. Local civic groups and the opposition party are poised to embark on a national campaign to oppose the Monday agreement in Seoul. The unexpected resistance to the deal that was struck in the year of the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations may ruin an opportunity to improve those ties.
The deal was not fully satisfactory to Koreans given Japan’s refusal to accept legal responsibility and a critical lack of communication with former comfort women. We hoped the deal would resolve the decades-old dispute and lead to better relations for the future.
We cannot help but raise strong suspicions about the sincerity of the Japanese government after watching a series of statements and news reports from Japan since the deal was struck. The most shocking was Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s straightforward boast that Japan will not apologize again. Since German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt in 1970 before a ghetto monument in Poland to apologize for the Nazi’s brutal killing of Jews, his successors continued to pay tribute to the victims. As Japan’s renowned writer Haruki Murakami said, Japan must repeatedly say sorry to Korea until its former victims have heard enough.
We are dumbfounded by Japanese media reports that Tokyo offered 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) in return for Seoul’s promise to relocate the statue of comfort woman across from the Embassy of Japan in Seoul. Because the statue was set up by civic groups, our government cannot make a promise to remove it. Moreover, Monday’s deal simply states that Korean government will make an effort to address the issue through appropriate consultations with related groups. Simply put, our government has never vowed to relocate the statue.
We can hardly understand why Abe’s wife Akie paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on the same day the deal was struck in Seoul.
Japanese media underscore one part of the agreement: “Both countries refrain from mutual criticisms and denunciations on the international stage.” But it has strings attached: “under the condition that the Japanese government ensures successful implementation of the measures it pledged to take.” If Japan does not express sincere regret and remorse, angry Koreans will demand an immediate nullification of the deal. Success of the deal depends on Japan’s sincerity and our government’s effective persuasion of the people.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 30