The 2015 Japan-Korea Agreement: Implications for the Two Countries and the Region
On December 28, 2015, the governments of Japan and South Korea reached a landmark agreement on the issue of “comfort women,” the Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. The agreement, which was widely hailed as a breakthrough in the long-standing tension between the two countries, was supposed to put the issue to rest once and for all, and herald a new era of cooperation and reconciliation. However, five years later, the legacy of the agreement is mixed, with both positive and negative outcomes.
On the positive side, the agreement led to the establishment of a fund by Japan to compensate the surviving comfort women. The fund, which amounted to one billion yen (about nine million dollars), was administered by a foundation that was jointly set up by Japan and South Korea. In addition, Japan issued an official apology for its past actions, and promised to take steps to prevent similar atrocities from happening in the future. The agreement was seen as a significant gesture of goodwill by Japan and a step towards closure for the aging comfort women who had suffered indescribable trauma.
However, the agreement also had its share of detractors, both in Japan and South Korea. In Japan, some right-wing groups criticized the compensation as a form of extortion, and accused the government of giving in to pressure from South Korea. They also argued that the comfort women were not forcibly recruited by the Japanese military, but were prostitutes who willingly worked for the soldiers. In South Korea, some activists and victims` groups rejected the agreement, arguing that it did not go far enough in addressing the issue of accountability and justice. They demanded a formal apology and legal reparations from Japan, as well as recognition of the comfort women as victims of war crimes.
The disagreement over the 2015 Japan-Korea Agreement has continued to cast a shadow over the relations between the two countries. In 2019, South Korea`s Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies were liable for compensating Korean forced laborers during the colonial period, which led to a deterioration of the economic ties between the two countries. The Japanese government, in turn, retaliated by imposing restrictions on exports of key materials to South Korea, citing national security concerns. The two countries have also been engaged in a dispute over the sovereignty of a group of islets in the Sea of Japan (called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan), which has fueled nationalist sentiments.
The implications of the 2015 Japan-Korea Agreement go beyond the bilateral relations between the two countries. The controversy over comfort women has been a long-standing issue in the Asia-Pacific region, and has often been used as a tool to advance political agendas and to score points against rivals. The agreement was seen as a test case for the viability of reconciliation in a region that has been marked by historical animosities and territorial disputes. Its mixed legacy suggests that reconciliation is a difficult and complex process that requires sustained political will and popular support.
In conclusion, the 2015 Japan-Korea Agreement on comfort women was a historic milestone that signaled a willingness by the two countries to confront the painful legacy of the past. However, the agreement also exposed the deep-seated mistrust and disagreement between the two countries, and highlighted the challenge of achieving true reconciliation. The legacy of the agreement will continue to be debated and scrutinized, and it remains to be seen whether it will serve as a template for resolving other historical conflicts in the region.