The Glendale monument to comfort women is a replica of the statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. (Rafu Shimpo photo)
Following is an English translation of a statement issued in Japanese by the Global Alliance for Historical Truth on Dec. 28. GAHT is an organization whose goal is “to restore the correct image of Japan,” “to defend Japan’s honor” and promote “historical awareness based on correct facts” “for the sake of our children’s future.”
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On Dec. 28, the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea announced at a joint press conference that the two countries had reached a “historic” and “final” agreement on the “comfort women” problem. But what has been resolved by this agreement, and what issues remain? Our position is that nothing has been resolved.
Contrary to Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s proud statement about a final solution, the fact is that the South Korean side has not promised to do anything. The South Korean foreign minister, while watching progress on the Japanese side, stated that his country will strive for a number of things. On the other hand, Mr. Kishida declared a final agreement without imposing any conditions on South Korea. In terms of diplomatic ability, South Korea, remarkably, is superior. Japan has stated that it will contribute nearly a billion yen for former comfort women, while South Korea has not even mentioned making a contribution.
Moreover, this declaration was made at the press conference but has not been put into writing. There is a danger that the agreement will not be honored by the next administration.
First of all, the comfort women problem is an issue in which the South Korean side has been closing in on Japan. For Japan, the problem was resolved by the 1965 peace treaty with South Korea. For South Korea, the deterioration of bilateral relations has caused economic damage — fewer tourists from Japan, less investment, fewer imports, and so on. Even though the U.S. was calling on Japan to solve the problem, Japan was in a situation where it was not necessary to seek a solution. There was no need for our foreign minister to take the trouble to visit Seoul, and there was no need to acknowledge the many demands from South Korea.
However, the Japanese side made numerous blunders. First of all, the Japanese government, without legal basis, acknowledged involvement with comfort women during the war and expressed regret. Then, from a humanitarian standpoint, it announced that it was going to establish a fund for the women. These actions were completely unnecessary. We already have the Kono Statement, and sponsoring a fund constitutes proof that Japan has committed a crime. Thus, in the matter of the comfort women, the Japanese government becomes unable to claim innocence. For private citizens’ groups that claim comfort women were not sex slaves, it becomes an increasingly difficult road to travel.
To make matters worse, the South Korean side has not made any meaningful pledges. Although the government is saying that it will no longer bring up the issue, so far all of the actions related to comfort women have been initiated by organizations outside the government. The comfort woman statue outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul was created by Teitaikyo (Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan) and the one in Glendale was also built by a private organization, KAFC (Korean American Forum of California). The South Korean government has stated that it will make an effort to have those statues taken down, probably by writing a letter. However, the recipients of the letter have already it clear that they will ignore the request.
South Korea has said that it will not criticize Japan at the U.N. and other international forums, but it remains to be seen whether the designation of UNESCO world heritage sites related to the war will turn into criticism of Japan.
Japan was in an advantageous position but surrendered all of its advantages, taken in by skillful South Korean diplomacy. Foreign Minister Kishida’s declaration will remain as a significant stain on the history of Japanese diplomacy.