A critical lack of communication
Before the Lunar New Year holiday on Feb. 6, Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul visited the House of Sharing, a residence for former sex slaves from World War II, in Gwangju, Gyeonggi. Kang Il-chul, one of the victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery, told Cho they have no family and they can only trust the government. Cho said, “While there haven’t been much progress until now, this year is very important, and two countries are working to resolve the issue.”
On Dec. 29, Cho visited the place again to explain the agreements made a day earlier between Seoul and Tokyo. Cho began by saying that he was sorry to visit them after the agreement was made - instead of consulting them in advance. While Cho explained the outcomes and meanings of the agreement, the victims’ faces were filled with anger and frustration.
President Park Geun-hye had emphasized that the comfort women deal should be “at a level that the victims could consent to.” The Foreign Ministry also claimed it had sufficiently reflected the opinions of the victims during the negotiation.
However, the victims at the house said otherwise. Kim Gun-ja, one of the victims living in the facility, said, “The government made a deal on its own. We cannot accept it.” Kang added, “Do they think we are fools because we are old? We all know what’s going on.”
Cho said, “Coincidentally, Tokyo began to make a move on Christmas Eve,” but the surviving victims were not convinced. On Monday afternoon - the day of the landmark deal - the ministry excluded the victims on the list of entities for debriefing.
Those surviving “comfort women” had to watch the agreement being announced on television. Some thought a welfare facility was to be built with Japanese money. Other were confused about the plan for Shinzo Abe to apologize.
According to House of Sharing Director An Shin-gwon, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se visited in February 2014, and his deputy Cho visited last February, with no other visits. “The working-level officials actually never visited the house since Lee Sang-deok, a lower-level Foreign Ministry official, visited and talked to the victims in May 2014,” An said.
Surviving victim Yoo Hee-nam said that even Keiko Usuki, a Japanese activist and a member of the Asian Women’s Fund, comes to the house three or four times a year.
There is no unilateral victory in diplomatic negotiation. The agreement on the Japanese military sexual enslavement is very disappointing. What’s more frustrating is government’s attitude and the way it handles the issue. Another comfort woman, Yi Ok-seon, said, “When I protested by myself in front of the Foreign Ministry, no one cared. What is the ministry doing? To which country do we belong to?” Koreans are wondering if the ministry has been listening to the voices of the comfort women victims at all.
The author is a political and international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 31, Page 29
by AHN HYO-SEONG