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Practical World True News Magazine

Top Story : South Korea and Japan 'finally and irreversibly' reconcile on World War II sex slaves

Japan and South Korea reached a breakthrough agreement on Monday to “irreversibly” end a controversy over Korean women, euphemistically known as “comfort women,” who were forced to work in Japan's wartime brothels. The issue has stirred animosity between the neighbors for decades

apanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-Se, shake hands during a news conference in Seoul after announcing a deal concerning the so-called comfort women of World War II.
 (Yonhap / European Pressphoto Agency)
After a meeting in Seoul, the two countries’ foreign ministers said that Japan will contribute 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for the surviving elderly comfort women; in return, South Korea will refrain from criticizing Japan over the issue, and work to remove a statue representing the victims from in front of the Japanese embassy in downtown Seoul.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters that the issue would be "finally and irreversibly resolved" if Japan fulfilled its obligations.

The agreement dovetails with the United States’ geopolitical priorities. Washington has long hoped for improved relations between its two major Asian allies to counterbalance an increasingly aggressive China and the erratic behavior of North Korea.

In Washington, National Security Advisor Susan Rice issued a statement congratulating the two countries on the agreement, which she called "an important gesture of healing and reconciliation."

She added: "We look forward to deepening our work with both nations on a wide range of regional and global issues, on the basis of mutual interests and shared values, as well as to advancing trilateral security cooperation."

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to use the agreement to improve bilateral ties. Abe told reporters in Tokyo that Japan apologizes to the women for their pain; yet he added that future Japanese generations should not have to keep on doing so.

"We should not allow this problem to drag on into the next generation," he said, echoing remarks he made marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II on Aug. 15. " From now on, Japan and South Korea will enter a new era."

The agreement was unexpected, especially under the conservative Abe administration. Until quite recently, Abe has been critical of attempts by previous administrations to acknowledge Japanese military involvement in the enslavement of the comfort women. Critics have called him a historical revisionist.

The controversy over former comfort women began in late 1991 when a group of South Korean women filed a lawsuit with a Tokyo court, insisting that the Japanese army sexually enslaved them before and during World War II. They demanded that the Japanese government formally apologize and compensate them for their suffering.

For decades before that, the Japanese government had considered the matter closed. Yet during a visit to Seoul in January 1993, then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa officially apologized to South Koreans for the suffering inflicted upon comfort women by the Japanese army. In the same year, Japan issued a formal apology for the wartime network of brothels and front-line stations that provided sex for the military and its contractors.

It has been estimated that up to 200,000 women were sex slaves for Japanese soldiers before and during WWII. Many were Korean but there were also women from Indonesia and other countries.

Japan’s more conservative politicians have criticized the apology, despite substantial evidence that the Japanese government was involved in trafficking the women.

Nobutaka Shikanai, the former President of Japan’s most conservative paper, the Sankei Shimbun, and an officer in the Imperial Japanese Army’s accounting department during the war, has acknowledged the government’s role in building wartime sex-trafficking networks.

“When we procured the girls, we had to look at their endurance, how used up they were, whether they were good or not,” he was quoted as saying in a book of interviews and memoirs, "The Secret History of The War." “We had to calculate the allotted time for commissioned officers, commanding officers, grunts, how many minutes. We also had to fix prices according to rank. There was even a prospectus we learned in [military] accounting school.”

Many of the comfort women came from South Korea, which was annexed by Japan from 1910 to 1945, and many South Koreans still feel bitter over the brutal occupation.

In South Korea, 46 of the women are still alive.

In June 1995, the Japanese government announced details to creating a special fund to provide allowances to former comfort women. However, many South Koreans criticized the fund – which consisted of money raised from private donors – for glossing over the Japanese government’s role in perpetrating wartime atrocities. The fund was dissolved in 2007.

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A Seoul civic group representing Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II slammed the Japanese government on June 21, 2014 for its attempt to undermine the credibility of its 1993 apology, adding the move is clearly a “regression of history.”

“The move is a provocation against the global society which yearns for the eradication of wartime violence on women and the rightful history,” it added.

Almost all of the women, now elderly, have died, increasing worries that the remaining victims may also die before Japan makes atonement. Only 54 victims remain alive in South Korea, and their average age is 88.
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