In what can be seen as a remarkable political shift in East Asia, Japan apologized to South Korea for forced sexual slavery of over 200,000 women during the Second World War.
The countries reached a historic deal under which Japan will have to provide 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) for a foundation to be established by South Korea to support the surviving victims Japan used to describe as ‘comfort women’ during the Great War.
A photo from World War II showing comfort women in japanese military camps. History of Japan
At a joint press conference in Seol with South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumoi Kishida read a statement from Japanese PM Shinzo Abe expressing “apology and remorse from the heart for all the people suffering hard-to-cure wounds and many pains”.
This apology means that Japan has now officially admitted that atrocities were committed by the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces during the occupation of Korea from August 29, 1910 to the end of the Second World War.
“The comfort women issue is an issue whereby many women under the then military’s involvement bore deep scars to their honour and dignity, and from this perspective, the Japanese government acutely feels responsible.”
The issue has been a major one in Korea, which has been long demanding that Japan acknowledges a legal responsibility for the atrocities and not just apologies.
Japan had claimed the issue was already settled under a 1965 treaty that normalized bilateral ties. It was only in 1990s that Korean survivors of the horror started raising the matter.
Thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sexual service for Japanese soldiers.
In South Korea, there are 46 such surviving former ‘comfort women’, mostly in their late 80s or early 90s. The two sides said that the foundation would be erected to carry out a series of projects to “restore the honour and dignity of the victims, and heal their psychological scars.”
The United States may have had a hand behind the deal because closer cooperation between Japan and South Korea – both US allies – will mean a more effective check on the nuclear-powered North Korea.
The focus will now move to China and Japan’s tiff over atrocities committed during the Second World War.
China alleges that Japanese forces pillaged, murder and raped thousands of women in Nanking alone during the second Sino-Japanese War between December 1937 and January 1938.
Nanjing People’s Anti-Japan War Museum
The episode infamously called the ‘Rape of Nanking
’ continues to be a political issue that fuels nationalism in both China and Japan. While China, too, has been demanding that Japan pays for the crimes committed that resulted in around 300,000 dead, Japan has claimed that the figure was much lower and that the toll was military in nature.