18 survivors remain . . .
A former South Korean comfort woman passed away earlier this week. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan said the woman, identified only as Lee, was 92 years old at the time of her death. Lee is the second South Korean comfort woman to die in 2020, reducing the number of remaining registered survivors to 18 women. The issue of Japanese military sexual slavery during the Second World War is controversial across Asia, with survivors in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, North Korea, China, Indonesia, and East Timor. The issue is especially provocative for South Korea-Japan relations, and multiple attempts to address the lingering issue have been met with disappointment.
Failed attempts at reconciliation . . .
The issue of comfort women was first addressed by South Korea and Japan in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations, in which South Korea received economic aid and a loan package from Japan in exchange for considering all pre-treaty compensation issues settled. This was followed by a 2015 bilateral deal, in which Japan set up a C$12.7-million fund for survivors, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave a formal apology. Survivors legally challenged the deal, saying they were not consulted by the South Korean government. In December 2019, the South Korean Supreme Court dismissed their petition, but the deal has effectively been abandoned by President Moon Jae-In, who has called it inadequate.
Relations remain rocky . . .
Relations between South Korea and Japan have been tense since July 2019 when the two countries engaged in tit-for-tat diplomacy on comfort women and trade. Last year, the South Korean Supreme Court ordered two Japanese companies to pay reparations to South Korean wartime labourers. In response, Japan restricted high-tech exports to South Korea, which prompted further retaliatory actions. Most recently, the two countries have restricted bilateral travel due to concerns over the coronavirus, which has incited yet another diplomatic row. It remains to be seen how relations will further develop, and whether they will ever warm up.