Japan-South Korea accord on 'comfort women' leaves ambiguities
日韓解決合意 法的責任、曖昧なまま 少女像撤去は玉虫色
In the latest accord reached by the governments of Japan and South Korea on the so-called "comfort women" issue, Japan did not back down from its position that the issue had been resolved in a 1965 treaty with South Korea. Instead, the two governments agreed that South Korea would establish a foundation for former comfort women, for which the Japanese government would provide the funds. There remain, however, gaps between what the two governments are seeking, which will require future political maneuvering.
According to the latest agreement, the South Korean government will establish a new foundation to support former comfort women, for which the Japanese government will supply some 1 billion yen. Unlike the Asian Women's Fund, which was funded in part by donations from the private sector and dissolved in 2007, the new foundation's monies will come solely by the Japanese government. The arrangement implies that the Japanese government is taking a certain degree of responsibility for the comfort women issue, making the agreement more acceptable for Seoul, which had been calling on Japan to explicitly acknowledge its responsibility as a state.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government, which has continued to argue that the comfort women issue was completely and definitively resolved in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, will be providing the funds for the new foundation under the pretext that it is taking "moral responsibility." According to a Japanese government source, the cash amount ended up being much higher than initially planned, because "it would be difficult to persuade former comfort women to accept the accord if the amount were too small." Asked about the Japanese government's provision of funds for the foundation, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida emphasized to reporters, "They are not reparations."
At a joint press conference held by Kishida and his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se following the accord, Kishida said the Japanese government is "painfully aware of its responsibilities." He also explained that the prime minister would express a "heartfelt apology and remorse." The wording the prime minister will use will be almost exactly the same as those in letters sent by past prime ministers to former comfort women -- which was the limit of what the Japanese government was willing to accept. As for the method by which the prime minister's sentiments will be communicated to former comfort women, Kishida said, "That is the job of the foundation. We will move forward in adherence with the Japan-South Korea agreement."
At the Japan-South Korea summit held in November, South Korean President Park Geun-hye sought a resolution to the comfort women issue that "the victims would be able to accept, and that the public will find satisfactory" as a condition for reaching a final agreement. Meanwhile, the Japanese government demanded that South Korea put in writing that, after an agreement is reached, the issue would not be brought up again. Ultimately, both Kishida and Yun stated that the agreement reached on Dec. 28 was "final and irreversible," using the term "irreversible" for the first time. Tokyo believes that the document released at the joint foreign ministerial press conference is proof of Seoul's definitive commitment to this promise.
However, the fate of the statue of a girl in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul -- installed in remembrance of former comfort women -- is still unclear. South Korea said merely that it would "take the measures necessary," while Kishida took it one step further, saying the statue will be "appropriately relocated." The end result remains ambiguous, with both sides going only as far as they were willing to go, respectively.
EDITORIAL: 'Comfort women' deal should lead to new era of Tokyo-Seoul relations
Japan and South Korea on Dec. 28 reached a landmark agreement to settle the long-festering issue of “comfort women.” The agreement, struck at the closing of the year that marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the 50th anniversary of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, has removed the largest source of tension in their bilateral ties.
This is a historic deal for the relationship between Tokyo and Seoul suitable for this milestone year. We welcome the weighty decision by the two governments to move beyond their long-standing feud and take a wise step forward to overcome the negative legacies of their history.
After the Dec. 28 meeting between Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, Kishida defined the issue of comfort women as “an issue that deeply scarred the honor and dignity of many women under the involvement of the military of that time" and stated, “The Japanese government is acutely aware of its responsibility” for the matter.
“Comfort women” is a euphemism for women who were forced to provide sex to members of the imperial Japanese military before and during World War II.
The Japanese government, which argues that a bilateral agreement on war reparations concluded 50 years ago legally resolved the issue, has been reluctant to use any language that suggests the nation’s responsibility for the issue. This time, the Japanese government used more candid expressions in referring to its stance toward the sensitive topic while maintaining its official position.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his heartfelt apology and remorse as prime minister of Japan to former comfort women.
Abe once indicated a desire to review the 1993 Kono statement on the issue, released by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. It is quite significant that Abe, albeit through Kishida, expressed his commitment to the core message of the key statement.
JAPANESE GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY MADE CLEAR
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun, for his part, made remarks that responded to Tokyo’s demands.
Yun confirmed that the agreement represents a “final and irreversible resolution” of the bitter dispute, although he premised his comment by saying the measures promised by the Japanese government need to be implemented without fail.
Yun expressed the South Korean government’s solid commitment to the terms of the agreement in an apparent attempt to reassure Japan, which has criticized South Korea for “moving the goal posts” by changing its position on promises it has made.
The top diplomats of both countries made these pledges in front of media. They should ensure that the agreement will be faithfully carried out.
Under the deal, the South Korean government will establish a foundation to restore the honor and dignity of former comfort women and heal the wounds they bear in their hearts. Tokyo will provide about 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) from its state budget for the foundation.
In the 1990s, Japan set up the Asian Women’s Fund, which offered compensation to former comfort women financed by donations from the Japanese public, as well as medical and welfare programs financed by public funds, along with a letter of apology from the prime minister.
This initiative produced positive results in Southeast Asia and some other areas, but it failed to achieve its objectives in South Korea because of the rise of public opposition to the project in the country.
Various factors were behind the fund’s failure to win support in South Korea. For one thing, the Japanese government was not necessarily very eager to promote the project. Secondly, the compensation paid to former comfort women was financed by donations from Japanese people, not by the government’s money. These facts provoked criticism in South Korea that Japan was trying to dodge its responsibility.
Both governments, citizen groups supporting former comfort women and news media should all learn lessons from this failure.
Through future talks, the two sides will work out details about the operation of the proposed new foundation. The top priority should be placed on respecting the feelings of the surviving former comfort women, who now number fewer than 50.
A support group for these women has denounced the agreement as “diplomatic collusion that betrays both the victims and the public.” Negative reactions to the deal driven by nationalism could also emerge in Japan.
But the agreement can be a valuable foundation for building new relations between Japan and South Korea. The Japanese government has to meet its commitments faithfully, while the South Korean government has no choice but to have a serious conversation with the people to win their support for the agreement.
PROMOTE RELATIONS BASED ON MUTUAL BENEFITS
On Dec. 18, 1965, Japan and South Korea held a ceremony in Seoul to exchange ratification documents for the basic treaty to establish diplomatic relations and four other agreements, opening a new chapter in their history.
The four agreements on war reparations, fishing industries, cultural assets and cooperation, and Korean residents in Japan have been improved in some way in response to the demands of the times.
Generations of people in the two countries, including those alive today, have a shared responsibility to review and reconsider the “1965 regime,” the historic framework created in that year by these agreements to define the basic assumptions for the bilateral relationship.
Japan-South Korea relations have developed remarkably over the past half-century.
South Korea’s per-capita income has grown to nearly $30,000 from slightly more than $100 back then. Japan’s support contributed to South Korea’s marvelous economic development.
Japan has also gained huge benefits from its neighbor’s rapid economic growth.
Over the past half-century, the development of the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been driven by mutual cooperation and benefits. This is also how ties between the two neighbors should be in the future.
The United States, which strongly urged the two nations to normalize their relations five decades ago, has been actively involved in the process leading to the agreement on the comfort women issue.
During the past two-and-a-half years, Tokyo and Seoul have been locked in diplomatic smear campaigns against each other, making demeaning remarks in front of other countries, mainly on the diplomatic stage in Washington.
Hurt and exhausted by this verbal battle, the two countries have realized the obvious fact that this futile fight produces nothing and decided to return to the most basic principle in diplomacy--dialogue.
LONG LIST OF CHALLENGES TOKYO, SEOUL SHOULD TACKLE TOGETHER
This is an age when the world faces a large number of challenges that demand global responses, including not only various economic problems but also issues concerning security, humanitarian assistance related to conflicts and natural disasters, and environmental protection.
That means there are countless challenges Japan and South Korea, the two major powers in Asia, should grapple with together through cooperative efforts.
The foreign ministers of the two countries on Dec. 28 voiced their expectations that the agreement will open a new chapter in the history of the bilateral ties. Kishida said he is convinced that Japan-South Korea relations will enter a new era, while Yun said he expects the two countries to start carving out a new relationship next year.
The hope is that the new year, which starts in three days, will mark the beginning of 50 years in which Japan and South Korea can walk together with their eyes looking ahead toward a new future for their relations.
EDITORIAL: Approval to restart Takahama reactors based on unmet conditions, weak promises
The Fukui District Court recently nullified its earlier injunction against reactivating the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.
Kansai Electric Power Co., operator of the nuclear plant in the town of Takahama, is expected to restart one of the two reactors as early as late January.
But the procedure for obtaining the approval of the hosting government of Fukui Prefecture, which was completed immediately before the court decision, was laden with problems. We oppose moves to press ahead with the planned restarts under the current circumstances.
Fifteen nuclear reactors are concentrated in Fukui Prefecture, including some for which decisions have been made for decommissioning.
Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa set five conditions for his approval, calling on the central government and Kansai Electric to clearly pinpoint their responsibilities.
Public opinion has consistently been cautious about restarting nuclear reactors following the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Nishikawa called strongly on the central government to “promote public understanding,” and he obtained Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s assurances that he will ensure that meetings with residents will be held across Japan for that purpose.
The governor called on Kansai Electric to precisely explain when it plans to build an interim storage facility outside Fukui Prefecture for spent nuclear fuel. The utility said in November that it will locate the site for the facility around 2020 and have it operational around 2030.
Nishikawa said he believes that all his conditions have been met. But the substantiality of those commitments remains questionable.
Kansai Electric has said it hopes to install an interim storage facility somewhere in the Kansai region, and it has long been canvassing local governments for their understanding. But resistance to hosting such a facility remains strong, and the building site is not likely to be selected any time soon. There is no denying suspicions that the plan could end up as an empty promise.
Questions also remain on the extent to which Nishikawa has fulfilled his own responsibilities.
He has never had the prefectural government organize meetings with local residents, saying it is up to the central government and the plant operators to explain the safety and necessity of nuclear plants.
An emergency evacuation plan for areas within a 30-kilometer radius of the Takahama nuclear plant was only worked out earlier this month. That zone contains parts of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures and has a total population of about 180,000.
But Nishikawa approved the planned restarts without waiting for a drill held across prefectural borders, arguing that working out an emergency evacuation plan is not a legal requisite for restarting a nuclear reactor.
Obtaining the host communities’ approval for a reactor restart should primarily be a process to enhance the safety and peace of mind of local residents.
It is all too regretful that another undesirable example has been set, following the earlier approvals to restart the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture.
The central government was also quite candid in postulating that restarting nuclear reactors is a foregone conclusion. Industry minister Motoo Hayashi visited Fukui, the capital of Fukui Prefecture, four days before the court decision to ask Nishikawa for his approval.
The local governments and residents of communities adjacent to nuclear plants are strongly dissatisfied that they have no say in decisions on reactor restarts. Kansai Electric has rejected the demands of the Kyoto and Shiga prefectural governments for inclusion on the list of “hosting communities,” whose approvals are required for restarting reactors of the Takahama nuclear plant. The central government has only been looking on, arguing that approvals of the hosting communities are not a legal requirement.
Abe has said he will provide explanations to gain the public’s understanding of the importance of nuclear power generation. That leads us to believe that he should also be presenting guidelines on the extent and coverage of the “hosting communities,” whose approvals are necessary for nuclear restarts.
Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Considering women and marriage through the lens of the surname
香山リカのココロの万華鏡: 女性、結婚 姓で考える ／東京
I increasingly use email during the course of my work, and I sometimes inadvertently type in the wrong name. For example I might accidentally call someone whose last name is Fujimoto as Fujiki -- which contains an extremely similar second kanji character -- or use the wrong first character for the surname Mifune.
Sometimes, I realize my mistake after I have sent the message, but there have likely been other times that I remained unaware of the error.
Occasionally, I will get a return message saying something like, "My last name is Fujimoto, not Fujiki." And while it is obviously impossible to read someone's feelings through email, there are times when the tone of such a message suggests the person has been somewhat offended.
Because mistaking someone's name is clearly impolite, I respond by apologizing and saying something like, "Please forgive me. I have been experiencing the onset of farsightedness due to age, and I made a mistake reading your name on your business card."
In every instance where I have received such a message, it has been from a man. Most likely, their surnames are something very important for them. In that case, then, I think that they should be able to imagine to at least some extent the feelings experienced by women who must change their surname following marriage.
Presently in Japan, 96 percent of marrying couples end up using the husband's surname.
The assertion that a man and woman who are marrying may choose whose last name to adopt is a mere formality, since women don't really have a choice.
A friend of mine once said to me, "My family believes very strongly in the divination associated with the number of strokes used in the kanji of one's name, and my first name was chosen after careful consideration of the total number of strokes in combination with my last name. But changing your last name following marriage changes the entire number of strokes -- and a fortune-teller told me after calculating the number of strokes in my new name that it was the least auspicious figure possible."
At the urging of her relatives, my friend ended up using different characters for her first name. She once smiled wryly and said to me, "Both my first and last names ended up changing."
Many people advocate for men and women being able to choose separate surnames following marriage, as working women find it professionally inconvenient to change their names. However, I assume that there are also numerous women without jobs who have no desire to change the family names that they have become familiar with, and/or who are fond of the combination of their first and last names.
For this reason, I find it odd to assume that it is unproblematic for non-working women to change their surnames after marriage.
Sometimes, women at my clinic say to me with a smile, "My last name has changed." In such cases, however, I assume that it is the marriage itself that they are happy about -- not their new family name.
I once saw a man say with a straight face, "Every woman is happy about changing her surname to that of her husband." This statement caused me to reconsider the following questions: What does it mean to be a woman? And what does it mean to get married?
(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)
EDITORIAL: Let 2015 be the year 'comfort women' issue is resolved
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida will visit South Korea on Dec. 28 to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, in a diplomatic effort to reach an agreement on the wartime “comfort women” issue that has been a festering sore in relations between Japan and its neighbor.
How to provide relief to women who were forced to provide sex to wartime Japanese soldiers is a human rights issue the governments of both countries need to tackle together, regardless of differences in their political positions on this sticky issue.
Twenty-four years have passed since a former comfort woman in South Korea came forward to talk about her experience for the first time.
This year alone, many former comfort women died with bitter resentment in their hearts. The number of former comfort women recognized by the South Korean government who are still alive is now less than 50, and their average age is nearly 90.
Time is growing short for both governments to resolve this long-running issue. This is clearly the time for Tokyo and Seoul to take action to remove this painful thorn in their relationship.
Any agreement on the issue reached between the two governments will stir up discontent and anger among people in both countries. There are narrow-minded opinions on both sides that use this issue to stir nationalistic impulses.
The political leaders of Japan and South Korea have a duty to overcome such friction and speak about the importance of building healthy relations between their countries through efforts based on a broad, long-term perspective. They must not let this crucial opportunity slip through their fingers.
Japan and South Korea established a formal diplomatic relationship in 1965, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the normal ties between the two nations.
Half a century ago, the number of Japanese and South Koreans who visited the other country was about 10,000 annually. The figure has since grown to more than 5 million due to steady expansion of exchanges between the two nations.
Nowadays, Japan and South Korea are bound together by inseparable and cooperative economic and cultural ties.
However, the comfort women issue has been a major obstacle to further development of the bilateral relations.
Tokyo and Seoul have been at odds over the question of whether a 1965 bilateral agreement on war reparations and economic cooperation legally solved the comfort women issue, as it did on issues concerning Japanese compensation for its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945. Bilateral talks over this question have gone nowhere.
If an agreement is to be reached in the meeting between the foreign ministers, it would be a product of major mutual, not unilateral, concessions.
Such a deal would be an important symbol of the two governments’ commitment to overcome the legacies of the unfortunate past of the two countries and start building a new future for bilateral ties.
The real negotiations over the comfort women issue have been taking place behind the scenes through an unofficial diplomatic channel, rather than official director-general level talks.
The negotiations have made significant headway since the first one-on-one summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Nov. 2.
The Abe and Park administrations have been under strong diplomatic pressure from the United States, the principal ally for both countries, to take steps toward settling the issue.
In addition, the scheduled general election in South Korea next spring has provided a strong political incentive for both governments to push the negotiations forward quickly.
The Japanese and South Korean governments share the need to manage their diplomatic agendas while feeling the pulse of the public.
This is a situation that will test the political leadership of both administrations.
We strongly hope that the political leaders of the two countries will work out a historic agreement on the issue suitable for this milestone year by duly fulfilling their responsibility.
ROK’s court decision in constitutional suit avoids new friction with Japan
South Korea’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the bilateral agreement with Japan that settled claims for wartime compensation was unconstitutional.
The court did not render a judgment on whether the agreement was unconstitutional, so a situation in which the court’s decision would create a new source of friction between the two countries may have been avoided.
The lawsuit was filed by the bereaved family of a South Korean man mobilized by the Japanese government as a civilian employee of the military during the war. His family asserted that a provision in the agreement stipulating that South Korea waives the rights to claim compensation from the Japanese government violates property rights guaranteed under South Korea’s Constitution, and is thus unconstitutional.
The bereaved family had originally filed a lawsuit over the money provided by the South Korean government to victims of those who were “forcibly mobilized.” It was in the course of that litigation that the family made its appeal over the agreement to the Constitutional Court.
As its reason for dismissing the case, the court said its judgment on whether the agreement was unconstitutional would not affect the ruling on the lawsuit (filed by the family regarding the South Korean government’s provision of money).
It also said the family’s claim does not meet the requirements for the case to be examined at the Constitutional Court.
Considering the content of the lawsuit, in which the family calls for an increase in the money provided by the South Korean government, we consider the court’s latest conclusion to be appropriate.
Since the left-leaning government under then South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun said in 2005 that the issue of so-called comfort women had not been settled, the country’s judiciary has apparently tended to interpret the bilateral agreement one-sidedly to favor South Korea.
Room for solution
Had the Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement was unconstitutional, it would have caused serious diplomatic friction, undermining the foundation of the bilateral relationship between Japan and South Korea.
As the court turned away the claim, it effectively left room for the two countries to strike a deal on the issue of so-called comfort women.
Following the court’s ruling, the Foreign Ministry of Japan issued a comment that both countries need to make efforts for the advancement of the bilateral relationship.
The Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation Between Japan and the Republic of Korea was concluded in 1965, concurrently with the signing of the Treaty of Basic Relations, which established diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.
The agreement stipulated that Japan would provide South Korea with a total of $500 million in economic cooperation in the form of grants and loans, and said the problems concerning property and claims between the two countries as well as their people had been settled completely and finally.
South Korea later utilized the cooperation money from Japan to build infrastructure, leading to the country’s economic development. The fact that the bilateral agreement has proved beneficial for both countries deserves praise.
It is hard to understand the very fact that a lawsuit of this kind was filed with the Constitutional Court.
South Korean courts are examining other lawsuits whose outcomes also could affect the bilateral relationship. Particularly worrisome is litigation over former requisitioned workers who were mobilized during the war.
In 2012, the South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that illegal actions directly linked to the colonial rule were difficult to recognize as subject to the bilateral agreement on property and claims.
High courts that had their rulings remanded by the top court handed down numerous decisions ordering Japanese companies, the former employers of the requisitioned workers, to compensate them. These cases are now being heard again at the top court in South Korea.
The South Korean government earlier took the position that issues related to the former requisitioned workers were also not subject to the bilateral agreement. We hope the top court in Seoul will make level-headed judgments.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 24, 2015)Speech