‘Comfort Women’ court ruling angers Japan . . .
Last Friday, a South Korean court ruled in favour of 12 Korean women forced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of South Korea between 1910 and 1945. The court ordered the Japanese government to pay each of the women 100 million won (C$115,000) as compensation for the physical and psychological pain they endured. The court said it would give the Japanese government until January 23 to file an appeal. But senior members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato, have stated that Japan will neither appeal nor adhere to the court’s demands. Some lawyers noted it is difficult to argue that the South Korean court has jurisdiction over the Japanese government.
A long road to reconciliation . . .
Several treaties and bilateral deals have been struck since the end of the Second World War to resolve the ‘comfort women’ issue, but tensions have risen over the past few years. In 2018, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered a Japanese company to pay compensation for its use of forced Korean labour during the war. Japan quickly denounced the court’s order and imposed export controls on some critical products for South Korea’s semiconductor industry. In turn, South Korean consumers began to boycott Japanese goods, and the South Korean government threatened its withdrawal from an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan. Although South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have expressed a desire to normalize relations, rising nationalism in both countries is a complicating factor.
Opportunities for a temporary reconciliation . . .
With the impending inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, some Asia experts are hopeful that the relationship between South Korea and Japan will reach an equilibrium. Biden has appointed Obama-era veteran Kurt Campbell as a senior Asia policy official, indicating his intention to focus on relations in the region. Campbell has repeatedly stated that “behind-the-scenes” counsel could be a vital step in resolving war-time-related tensions. Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies at the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations, has also suggested that North Korea’s current health and humanitarian crises present an opportunity for a joint attempt at engagement by Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul. This would require the Japanese and South Korean governments to temporarily freeze their historical dispute.
- Council on Foreign Relations: Japan-South Korea relations and the Biden factor
- Japan Times: Architect of U.S. pivot picked to be Biden’s ‘Asia czar’
- The New York Times: South Korean court orders Japan to pay compensation for wartime sexual slavery