2015-12-29 16:49
Regret on Park-Abe deal
Down to wire, Seoul takes half-measures on ex-sex slaves

The Korea-Japan agreement on the ex-comfort women, sex slaves who were forced to serve imperial Japanese Army soldiers, is unprincipled, goes against the lessons of history and raises questions about the government’s real purpose in this. True, the deal, announced after the foreign ministers’ meeting Tuesday, can be seen as a step forward from the previous proposal by the Shinzo Abe government but for President Park Geun-hye to accept it raises the question: Is the deal worth Park’s three years of fuss?

There are two broken principles at issue. First, it is about victimhood. All surviving former comfort women objected to the deal because it does not contain the admission of legal responsibility by the Japanese government. The very pillars that support the Korean government’s upper hand over Japan is its role of representing the demands of these old women, systematically victimized by Japan’s colonial power, for Japan’s sincere apology and proper compensation. These women called the deal, through their representative civic group, a “sellout” through diplomatic collusion.

The government did not even consult these women about the agreement, relegating itself to merely being a “broker” for a fee, and reducing itself to being a callous bureaucratic machine that is ready to ignore the few and powerless in the name of the majority’s interest in an arbitrary interpretation of democracy.

Human rights are the second assailed principle. As Abe admitted in his first-ever direct apology, his ancestors forced Korean girls to become prostitutes for their anti-humanitarian cause, violating their human rights and their rights as women. This issue should be dealt with in a global arena such as the United Nations.

As part of the deal, the government reportedly agreed to refrain from raising this issue internationally. Throw in Tokyo’s pledge of 1 billion yen, or about 10 billion won, for a foundation for these war victims and it would give the third-party countries the impression that Korea has bid for the highest sum to exchange away even the issue of human rights involving its citizens. This kind of act fits only a second-rate country that Korea should never be

The Abe-Park deal also points out that we have not learnt the lessons from history. In 1965, Korea ― under the rule of the Army general-turned-President Park Chung-hee, the incumbent President Park’s father ― gave Japan a “blank check” in return for $800 million. That money served as the seed for rapid economic development but is still used by Japan as an indulgence for turning a blind eye to the atrocities it committed during its colonial rule.

During their post-agreement telephone conversation, Abe reminded Park that the legal obligations from its colonial rule were settled by the 1965 treaty and the Tuesday deal does not affect its official stance.

The government claimed that the deal does not preclude legal avenues by which the ex-comfort women individually will fight against Japan but it is a rhetorical play to cover the obvious: their supposed guardian has turned its back on them and, considering their advanced age, they are left to their own devices.

Adding insult to injury is Japan’s insistence on the “irrevocability” of the deal, accommodated by Korea, which deprives the latter of its right to raise any issue on the content of the deal. It sounds as if Japan was the victim and Korea the perpetrator. It is Japan that has violated the irrevocability of its Pacifist Constitution, a device that prevents it from invading its neighbors again.

Finally, the deal lacks the very “imagination” the government has boasted of. It was on Friday that Japan unexpectedly told Korea to cut the deal before year end and rushed Korea for a deal, meaning that there was no time for Korea to use its imagination to factor into the deal.

But more deplorable is the failure of this government and the previous ones to deal with two issues at the same time, this linear mentality being most to blame for this botched deal. Still, we hope against hope that some of our worries will prove to be futile.