Back on the starting line

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Back on the starting line


The agreement on Japan’s wartime sexual slavery between Korea and Japan is being met with a strong backlash. Primarily, the victims and their support groups are disapproving. They call the deal a diplomatic collusion, taking Japan’s ambiguous acknowledgement of responsibility and apology as a final and irreversible conclusion. The opposition party said that the humiliating deal was not valid, and a foundation to support the victims should be established with citizens’ donation, not with Japan’s money. In Japan, conservatives have raised voices over Abe’s apology and allocation of the government budget. A right-wing party leader condemned it as “the biggest error in Abe’s diplomacy.”

The magnitude of the situations for President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is different. But they seem to be on the same boat. For smooth implementation of the agreement, it is inevitable to persuade the public and manage the situation. If they don’t handle the aftermath properly, they will be hurt. We cannot rule out the promise to the United States, an ally to both nations, by making an agreement.

The comfort women issue is an entanglement of Japan’s historical view, the claims settlement between Korea and Japan, national sentiment and real politics. It is only natural that Koreans are not pleased with the agreement. But compromises have to be made in a negotiation. The point is to restore the dignity of the victims and heal their memories of disgrace. The government must take all possible measures beyond the agreement. The true “compensation” to the victims does not come from Japan but from the pledges of the next generation to “never make a nation of submission” and to “defend the sovereignty and build a technologically and culturally powerful and wealthy country.” In that sense, the agreement is not an ending but a beginning.

Japan is in a new trial. While the agreement is a resolution in diplomacy, comfort women issue is not over as a historical fact. Since the 1993 Kono Statement that acknowledges and apologizes for the forcible mobilization of the sex slaves, the Japanese government has succeeded it, including the Abe cabinet. It is not appropriate to use the agreement to reduce or deny the history. It is like moving the field, not the goalpost. Japan needs to remain humble to history and join the efforts to cure the wounds of the victims. The dignity of Japan depends on it.

Korea and Japan have lost mutual vision for too long. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda called it an “inseparable marriage.” But the two countries may be looking at each other from the perspective of relationships with the United States and China. Rather than considering the long-term views, we have obsessed over immediate interests. This is the first year after the half century of normalized relations. The two governments need to prepare a new blueprint by using the comfort women deal as a stepping stone for reconciliation. The first should be a measure to resolve the deep-rooted antagonism between the two countries. Economic and cultural cooperation begins there. Strategic talks for the reunification of the Korean Peninsula and the rise of China are also urgent. History needs to move forward.

The author is Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 2, Page 26

by Oh Young-hwan
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