December 28, 2015, was a truly historic day in the story of South Korean comfort women. It was the day when the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea came to an agreement on the very long running issue of comfort women. It appeared that there would finally be a resolution to this long-standing and very divisive issue. That time can seem like ages ago now; so much has changed in a short period of time, and yet so much remains the same.
A Statement From Prime Minister Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a statement after the deal came out saying that he apologized for the “involvement” of Japanese troops in comfort woman stories in the past. He also agreed to set up an account to help Korean comfort women who are still around. However, he left enough room in his language to squeeze out of what he had said. These days, he appears to be exercising that option.
South Korea’s Response
Immediately after the deal and the statement from the Japanese prime minister, the South Korean foreign minister stated that he would work on a removal solution of a Korean comfort woman statue from outside the Japanese embassy. There has been a statue of a South Korean comfort woman stationed outside of the Japanese embassy in South Korea. It is a silent reminder of the history as told from the South Korean side of things. It is upsetting to the Japanese, so the gesture of removing it would have been a move toward a diplomatic solution indeed.
The Agreement Hits A Snag
There have been shifts in politics in both countries in recent years that make implementing the agreement a reality. Comfort women testimonies are heard around the globe, and most people are very sympathetic to them. Based on the comfort women stories, support has grown for the statues of comfort women all around the world. That makes the prospect of removing the statue from the Japanese embassy a much tougher prospect.
Another issue is that neither country seems all that willing to give much ground up on the version of history that they believe to be true. The South Korean side would like you to believe that there were hundreds of thousands of comfort women taken against their will by Japanese soldiers during World War II. Japan says this is not true and that many of the women came with them willingly.
It is hard to convince one side or the other on such an emotionally charged issue. Schoolchildren in one country are taught one way, while children in the other country are taught the opposite.
Political Changes Shift The Question Entirely
Changes in the governments of both countries have made implementing the deal that much harder. South Korea has seen a change in the standing of the government after the last election back in April. While the governing party remained in power, they did not have the majority that they previously enjoyed. As such, they have to work with partners to do anything political.
There is simply not enough agreement on the issue to go about one route or the other. Public opinion is very divided when polled, and that makes for some very tough decisions for those who are entrusted with power.
[Featured Image by Lee Jin-man/AP Images]