South Korea & Japan Settle Comfort Women Issue In A Historic Deal That's Been A Long Time Coming
This is a deal that's been decades in the making. On Monday, South Korea and Japan announced they finally settled Japan's use of "comfort women," or the forced prostitution of Korean women, before and during World War II. The issue has long been a source of tension between the two countries as Japan wavered, from flat-out denial to lukewarm admittance, on its past practice of abducting and forcing Korean women into sexual slavery.
Per the agreement, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally apologized in a "heartfelt" statement and Japan will provide 1 billion yen, or $8.3 million, to a South Korean fund dedicated to helping victims of sexual slavery. South Korea said it will now view the human rights violation as a resolved matter so long as Japan holds to its end of the deal and will consider removing a statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul that was erected to memorialize the plight of comfort women. Both countries will seek to move forward.
From 1910 to 1945, Japan occupied the Korean peninsula, and it was during this time that many oppressive policies were put into effect. Japan attempted to eradicate Korean culture, including its language and historic landmarks, and many Koreans were required to change their last names to Japanese ones under the belief it would help their children escape discrimination. According to BBC News, the Japanese army forced an estimated 200,000 women into prostitution during WWII. Today, there are 46 survivors still living in South Korea, most of whom would be in their 80s or 90s, while other hail from China, Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines, BBC News reports.
Whether over the issue of comfort women or land disputes such as Dokdo Island (Takeshima Island, if you ask the Japanese), South Korea and Japan's relationship has always been contentious, despite establishing diplomatic ties in 1965. Japan's government officially recognized the existence of wartime brothels in 1993, but a formal apology, like the one given by Abe, remained absent.
That's why Monday's developments represents a significant milestone in the two countries' relations, as they become more dependent on each other's economies and foreign policies, particularly in the face of China and North Korea. And for comfort women survivors, Monday will hopefully be a day of peace and resolution for crimes wreaked against them all those years ago.