The South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and the Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida announced on December 28th, 2015 they had agreed upon a final and irreversible decision regarding the comfort women issue. This agreement includes South Korean comfort women and Korean Comfort women. The South Korean government acted on July 28th, 2016 with the establishment of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing. This is an organization to assist the surviving comfort women, and deceased comfort women’s relatives. A cabinet meeting in Japan on August 25th provided $9 million, or $1 billion yen to the Foundation for Reconciliation and Healing. The promise of South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for roughly $18,000, and $90,000 was dispersed to surviving comfort women, and deceased comfort women’s families.
There has been opposition to the deal in several areas of Korean society. According to the Korean comfort women stories some of these disbursements have already been rejected. They want a compensatory payment instead of consolatory. This would necessitate the recognition of the wartime crimes by the Japanese government, and a legal liability to amend past misdeeds. The women believe since they have not consented, the South Korean government was unqualified to negotiate a deal. They want their dignity restored with compensatory payments and a public apology from the government.
A coalition of civil society groups in South Korea is opposing the deal. The Korean Council for Women is the leader, and they are trying to impede the deal. Comfort women testimonies rejected the deal and called it a diplomatic humiliation. The Foundation for Justice and Remembrance has been established to replace the disbursements from the government with the Korean’s voluntary donations. They are expanding their efforts to have more miniature statues of young comfort women called Statutes of Peace installed. The government is sensitive about the statues, and demands their removal.
The comfort women deal is facing further obstacles after the South Korean parliamentary election last April. The majority of the ruling party was lost for the first time in the last sixteen years. The majority on the parliament is now controlled by the two opposition party’s chairwoman, and chairman, and they staunchly oppose the deal. As the leader of the Peoples Party, An Cheol-soo wants the deal abandoned stating it is an unprecedented diplomatic catastrophe. Despite the skepticism it is unlikely South Korea will abandon or renegotiate the deal. The South Korean and Japanese foreign minister stated the deal is final and irreversible. Abandoning the deal would harm the future of Japan’s diplomatic conduct, and cause serious harm to the credibility of South Korea. An abandonment could additionally harm the alliance between the United States and Japan.
The comfort women deal has progressed from a diplomatic issue between Japan and South Korea to a sensitive domestic issue because South Korea must figure out a way to implement the deal. Park must make the integration into implementation process instead of defying the opposition. The surviving comfort women, the deceased comfort women’s families, the opposition parties, and the civil society groups must be persuaded by the Park administration to take part in the implementation process. Unless the Park administration can bridge the gap in perception between the people, and the government, seeds of discord will be sown with Korea.
Numerous experts have heralded the comfort women deal as an example of a successful diplomacy. The success of the deal is reliant on Park being able to effectively implement the deal by reconciling the disagreements present in Korean society. This will allow the comfort women deal to reconcile the historical legacies of Japan-South Korea relations as a new starting point. This could chart the path for bilateral relations in the future.