On the 28th of December 2015, the Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe finally apologized to the sex slaves, also known as comfort women from the second world war. Among this 70 year overdue apology rose inquiry of the intentions behind the apology. The inquiry of the media arose especially because the Japanese government had never formally admitted to its involvement with the comfort women, although a few dozen women just in the Republic of Korea still remain alive to this day.
In 1993, Japan did apologize for the atrocities in the war, but the government refused to acknowledge its role in the acquisition of comfort women. This time, the apology came with a price tag of 1 billion yen (approximately 8300140 USD). Although it may seem like a large amount of money, it only translates into 180,000 USD per each survivor. Many Korean citizens are in great discontent of the government’s act of accepting the proposed amount, criticizing the lack of consideration of the comfort women who now are left with what seems like an insincere apology as well as an insufficient compensation for an event that practically ruined their lives.
The Chinese media has expressed its stance by criticizing Japan for its disingenuous apology, claiming that both the apology and its acceptance form the South Korean government was a product of pressure from the United States. The United States has continuously attempted to strengthen the ties between Korea and Japan as they are both allies of the states, but historically discordant, which leaves the United States in a quandary. Others claim, that in the midst of China’s exponential growth, Japan has been wanting to strengthen ties with Korea in order to stabilize its stance in the East Asian region.
Abe has further exacerbated the controversy by stating that the apology made on the 28th will be the final apology as well as mention of comfort women from the Japanese regime , and will discontinue to discuss the issue in both global settings, and the Japanese-Korean summits. A famous Japanese press, Sankei, asserted in its report of this issue that South Korea should not attempt to mention comfort women from this point, and should be condemned as a member of the global society if the nation dares to do so.
This is not the first time Abe and his strong nationalist regime has fallen into controversy for disregarding the history of several millenniums that ties the East Asian countries together. The previous prime minister, Junichirō Koizumi was criticized for openly visiting and worshiping the Yasukuni Shrine, a shrine in which Japanese war heroes from WWII are buried. Of those, 14 are convicted as Class A war criminals, the very war criminals who directed the massacre, torture, and abuse of tens of thousands citizens during the second world war.
As if it were not inconsiderate enough that Koizumi openly visited the shrine from 2001-2006, his time in office, Koizumi was not the only influencer who decided to openly visit and worship the Shrine. Abe’s wife, posted a picture on twitter of her and her husband’s visit to the Shrine in 2013. Her act highly offended both Chinese and Korean citizens, resulting in an aggravation of the relations between the East Asian countries.
Any individual has a right to respect and worship whatever the individual chooses to. However, why the Prime Minister and his wife decided to publicly display such beliefs is questionable. Japan’s apology in the midst of the deterioration of the relations between the Korean-Japanese relationship seems extremely out of place, strengthening the allegations that the apology was only intended as a political move.
The South Korean’s regime’s intentions also remain unclear as both its public and the surviving comfort women have expressed severe discontent with the results of the negotiation. Considering the fact that both nations are of somewhat equal economical and political power, there is no reason that the South Korean regime would have felt pressured to make a decision that its citizens would have clearly disagreed with.
In the midst of all controversy, and the nebulous intentions of both Japan and Korea, both governments have settled that this is the last mention of comfort women and that this is a huge step to the relationship of the two countries. What lies next in the long and troublesome path between the Korean-Japanese relation remain unpredictable.