There are few arguments as heated between two Asia-Pacific countries as that over South Korean comfort women. South Korea and Japan are the two who butt heads over this particular piece of history. The Korean comfort women issue is something that has been with us since the end of World War II, and it still continues to be a flashpoint in political relations in the area.
The South Korean Point Of View
To hear comfort women testimonies from the South Korean point of view is to hear awful tales of tragedy and human suffering. They will always state that comfort women were taken from South Korea by the Japanese invading forces. In their comfort women stories, the women always had no choice in the matter, and the Japanese were always the ones who kidnapped them. They also claim very high numbers of Korean comfort women, some ranging as high as two-hundred thousand.
Japan’s Side Of The Story
The stories from Japan (and some South Koreans) is that these women were not kidnapped or forced into sexual slavery. The ones who were with Japanese soldiers were there of their own free will claim the Japanese. They go on to claim that they are not responsible for the terrible things that Korea sometimes claims about comfort women.
The Prime Minister of Japan did make some concessions to South Korea in an agreement that the two countries came up with in late 2015. In that agreement, he apologized for the involvement of Japanese soldiers in anything to do with South Korean comfort women. The wording was written in such a way that the Prime Minister had some wiggle room on the issue though. He took full advantage of that room when he spoke to members of his own government and continued to insist that he did not feel that the Japanese had done anything wrong.
Statues At Embassies
The issue is such a strong symbol of victimization in South Korea that they make a point of putting out a statue of a comfort woman in front of the Japanese embassy in their country. It is a blatant attempt to both not let the comfort women stories go away while at the same time antagonizing the Japanese over it.
Japan has claimed that the statues are illegal and serve no purpose but to weaken the relationship between the two countries. However, many in South Korea want the statues to remain. Young people in South Korea in particular are in support of the statues. They simply do not want to see this issue go away so easily for the Japanese.
The Bickering Continues
There were some who took great hope when an agreement was signed in 2015 between the two countries on this very issue. They hoped that this would help square away the issue once and for all. Those who had hoped for this outcome were left disappointed though. Even though the two countries got together long enough to sign this agreement, there is now a lot of question about if it will stand the test of time.
The political tensions between South Korea and Japan remain intact, and there is less evidence now than there was before that the two will find common ground to keep up their side of the agreement. Instead, the result has just been more arguing and finger pointing on both sides. In order to get anything done, more progress is going to have to be made. More concessions from both sides will need to be found, and both have to agree on one version of history.