Abe’s po­lit­i­cal need be­hind deal with ROK

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Ja­pan has agreed to pay 1 bil­lion yen ($8.3 mil­lion) to help the Repub­lic of Korea set up a fund to sup­port Korean women forced into sex­ual slav­ery by the Ja­panese army be­fore and dur­ingWorldWar II, in or­der to set­tle the “com­fort women” is­sue. Later, dur­ing his talks with ROK Pres­i­dent Park Ge­un­hye over the phone, Ja­panese PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe said the deal was “fi­nal and ir­re­versible” and ren­dered apol­ogy to the Korean women who were forcibly “re­cruited” as sex slaves. Park, on her part, said she ex­pected the agree­ment to help de­velop bi­lat­eral re­la­tions in a stable man­ner with an eye to the fu­ture.

For many, it is sur­pris­ing to see the sud­den set­tle­ment of the sore point in Tokyo-Seoul re­la­tions, al­though some un­cer­tain­ties re­main. To be­gin with, the deal is ac­tu­ally a com­pro­mise be­tween Ja­pan and the ROK in which the United States seems to have played a vi­tal role. US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry wel­comed the agree­ment on the very day it was an­nounced, say­ing it “will pro­mote heal­ing and help to im­prove re­la­tions be­tween two of the US’ most im­por­tant al­lies”. Ap­plaud­ing the lead­ers of the two coun­tries “for hav­ing the courage and vi­sion to reach this agree­ment”, he even urged the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to sup­port it.

Ap­par­ently, the last thingWash­ing­ton wants to see is its “pivot to Asia” fall­ing apart be­cause of the widen­ing fis­sures be­tween its al­lies in East Asia, and this could ex­plain its con­sis­tent in­ter­ven­tion in Ja­pan-ROK bi­lat­eral af­fairs.

Fail­ing to make progress in some long­stand­ing ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes and con­vince its neigh­bors of its “sin­cere” re­morse over its war crimes, Ja­pan had been caught in a diplo­matic stale­mate and was thus des­per­ate to seek a diplo­matic break­through. As much as Abe hates to ad­mit, rec­on­cil­ing with the ROK was a de­ci­sion he was forced to make be­cause his ex­ten­sive diplo­matic ma­neu­vers over the past two years had not been able to end its “neigh­bor­hood dilemma”.

Be­sides, the Abe ad­min­is­tra­tion needed to set­tle the “com­fort women” is­sue with the ROK to en­hance its chances of win­ning the up­per house elec­tion in July. His rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Par­ty­may greatly ben­e­fit from the deal on a sen­si­tive his­tor­i­cal is­sue by gain­ing pub­lic sup­port and neu­tral­iz­ing the op­po­si­tion par­ties’ ac­cu­sa­tion that Abe is not com­pe­tent enough to pursue bet­ter re­la­tions with Ja­pan’s neigh­bors.

How­ever, the rap­proche­ment be­tween Ja­pan and the ROK is nei­ther fi­nal nor ir­re­versible, be­cause some em­bed­ded un­cer­tain­ties could keep haunt­ing East Asia. Many in the ROK, es­pe­cially the sur­viv­ing “com­fort women” such as the 88-year-old Lee Yong-soo have re­jected the

The au­thor is an as­sis­tant re­search fel­low, In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can Stud­ies at China In­sti­tutes of Con­tem­po­rary In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions. deal. Lee said she would ig­nore the agree­ment and urge Ja­pan to pro­vide le­gal com­pen­sa­tion for the vic­tims if Abe truly wants to re­solve the is­sue.

The Korean Coun­cil for theWomen Drafted forMil­i­tary Sex­ual Slav­ery by Ja­pan, known for in­stalling the statue of a girl sym­bol­iz­ing the “com­fort women” in front of the Ja­panese em­bassy in Seoul in 2011, has also de­nounced the deal.

In fact, the “com­fort women” is­sue is not just about the ROK and Ja­pan, be­cause the es­ti­mated 200,000 vic­tims were from not only the Korean Penin­sula, but also China, South­east Asian na­tions, Rus­sia and other coun­tries.

In other words, the is­sue can be set­tled only when Ja­pan sin­cerely re­flects upon the atroc­i­ties it com­mit­ted in other coun­tries more than seven decades ago. Ja­pan still has a moun­tain to climb in this re­gard, as well as other is­sues such as the at­tempts by many Ja­panese politi­cians, in­clud­ing Abe, to re­vise Ja­pan’s wartime history.

Since some Ja­panese right-wing politi­cians are yet to face up to their coun­try’s past, the Ja­pan-ROK deal on the “com­fort women” is­sue can­not be seen as Ja­pan’s gen­uine re­pen­tance and re­morse. At best, it is an act of Abe’s po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency.

The au­thor is an as­so­ciate re­searcher at the Ja­pan Stud­ies Cen­ter of the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sci­ences.


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