Sincerity is the key
Lately, films and television dramas on wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military have been released. “Spirits’ Homecoming” drew nationwide attention, viewed by more than one million people in the first five days. The increased awareness seems to be a result of the agreement on the so-called comfort women issue at the end of last year.
Upon watching the films and dramas, Koreans were enraged at how cruel the Japanese military had been during the war and felt guilty for failing to protect our daughters. We cannot help the overwhelming sadness and frustration. On March 1, 1919, during the Japanese occupation, 33 Korean leaders declared that Joseon was an independent state and advocated that we would advocate international peace and dignity of mankind, and Korean people have never invaded or harassed other nations. It was the destiny of our parents’ generation to endure difficult times when the country was still weak. The comfort women issue is not a matter of the past but a task that is still in progress.
Kim Hak-sun’s courageous public statement that she had been a victim of sexual slavery by the Japanese military in 1991 sparked the comfort women issue, and amid national outrage, it has been developing through time. The Korean government had constantly demanded a sincere apology and compensation to the victims from the Japanese government.
The Park Geun-hye administration had been strongly demanding resolution of the comfort women issue, and last year, the two governments negotiated and announced an agreement on acknowledgement of the Japanese military’s involvement, the Japanese government’s recognition of accountability, an apology by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and creation of a fund from the Japanese government budget. Until then, the Korean government had maintained a hard-line stance despite the loss in national interests from cultural, tourism and economic exchanges and cooperation. As a result, a consensus in the United Nations and international community, as well as the two countries was created. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders also denounced the Japanese atrocity.
In the prolonged negotiation between Korea and Japan, it was confirmed that it was realistically impossible to seek resolutions that citizens of both countries can approve of. It seems that the feasible diplomatic negotiation focused on finding as much common ground as possible and agreeing on designing a desirable future.
While the international community welcomed the negotiation result, there are signs of further discords in Korea. Unfortunately, the target is not Japan but ourselves. No apology and compensation can make up for the suffering of the victims. However, as a member of the international community, Korea’s economy, diplomacy and security are highly dependent on international relations, and obtaining the best outcome as possible would be desirable for the next generation. It could be considered a stepping stone for the future.
Considering the national emotion, the agreement is insufficient and unsatisfactory. However, there are signs that the Korean government went through trouble to face the diplomatic reality. Of course, we cannot expect the agreement to heal the pains of the victims and bring a complete resolution. Instead, it is appropriate to consider it a foundation to bring the two countries to the starting point of a better future.
The conclusion of the comfort women issue starts from now. First, the Japanese government should faithfully implement the agreement sincerely. Faithful implementation means the Japanese government and society make efforts to agree on and execute what the government officially acknowledged and apologized for. The Korean government should also supplement shortcomings. First, the government should reinforce medical and welfare assistance for the victims and promote projects to educate the young generation on the lessons of history. More importantly, we need to work together to console the few remaining victims and help them live the rest of their lives with love and care from the nation.
The Korean Wave in Japan that started with “Winter Sonata” and popular culture has withered considerably. But there still are over 100 flights between the two countries every day. We are enraged and cannot accept any compensation to forgive Japan for the painful part of our history, but for the young generation and the future, we cannot continue to loathe Japan. The Korean government and people should embrace the comfort women victims with love. When the comfort women issue is addressed in terms of human dignity and women’s rights, the international community will recognize Korea’s efforts and Japan will repent and apologize sincerely. That will be the way to develop desirable Korea-Japan relations.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 1, Page 25
*The author is the director of the Migrant Youth Foundation.
by Kim Kyo-sik