The deal between Japan and Korea on the “comfort women” issue is a positive step for both countries.
Japan committed terrible atrocities before and during WWII and, as I’ve written before, the country has not done as much as it might have to take full responsibility for its past behavior. Japan has made enormous contributions to peace, prosperity, and security around Asia and the world, and is really a model, miracle country in so many ways, but it would be stronger if it could follow Germany’s path in historical accountability.
Korea has also come very far in past decades but has also played down or obfuscated important facts along the way – including the 1965 acceptance of reparations from Japan in exchange for a complete settlement of wartime claims and Japan’s 1993 Kono statement apologizing for wartime atrocities.
If implemented. the new agreement will help both countries focus on their need for far greater cooperation with each other in fostering economic growth, countering China’s aggressive military buildup, and strengthening the Pacific alliance. It will also hopefully pave the way for quick Korean accession to the Trans Pacific Partnership.
As part of the deal, the Korean side suggested they might consider removing the comfort women statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Doing so, however, will be a lightning rod for a certain segment of the Korean population opposed to greater reconciliation with Japan. Instead, the Japanese ambassador should place a wreath at the statue and announce that Japan no longer seeks its removal. No need for a press release or extra fanfare. If not, I bet others like it will be placed by private Korean activists near Japanese embassies around the world. Japan already has a monument to it’s incredible success over the past seventy years – it is modern Japan and the peaceful and prosperous Asia it has helped build. Laying a wreath at the Seoul statue and unilaterally dropping the request it be removed would go a long way in showing Japan’s strength and magnanimity while costing Japan next to nothing.