A Simple History behind Japan-Korea Relations

With 2015 being the 70th year since WWII, there has been a lot of programs talking about the war, and especially since the war has been the reason behind Japan’s strained relations with its neighbors. And when it comes to news, history, economics, and stuff, I always choose to watch Ikegami Akira. He’s like the Noam Chomsky of Japan, except he probably isn’t as well-versed in linguistics.

I had been wondering why Korea has been constantly bugging Japan about the comfort women problem and Japan appears to be unwilling to deal with the issue. It became apparent that 50 years ago, in 1965, Japan and Korea had already signed a pact to settle their dispute from WWII, which made their current relations even more a mystery. But let’s go further back in time for a bit.

Tracing back to the motivation behind Korea’s intention to be friendly with Japan, it appears that was the best option at that time since it was surrounded by communist countries China, North Korea, Mongolia, and USSR. As for Japan, it received pressure from the USA to work with Korea to fight communism.

While Korea has sought compensation from Japan on the war in the past, Japan has refused to do so since they “only colonized them but never actually fought Korea.” However, many people in Japan felt sorry for the sufferings that Korea had to endure, and so Japan offered them USD300 million to aid Korea in their economic growth, another USD200 million loan at low interest, and an additional USD300 million worth of economic support by means of sharing Japan’s technical know-how, etc. It is worthy to note that Japan’s GDP at that time was a mere USD350 million, which means that Japan has offered Korea an amount beyond their GDP. It was an amount Korea had required because when Korea broke up, North Korea was mostly industrialized while South Korea consisted mainly of farms. So with Japan’s financial support, South Korea’s economy soared past that of its counterpart.

Back to the agreement signed in 1965, it appears that the document explicitly states that the signing of the agreement marks the end of the dispute and neither party is to raise issues about the war again.

Now you’re confused too, eh?

It appears that the comfort women issue only came to light after the agreement was signed, which means that the agreement did not include the comfort women problem. However, to both governments, the issue has been resolved and never to be brought up again. Fortunately or unfortunately, South Korea is one of the nations to have a constitutional court where its citizens can sue the government for any disputes against the constitution, so the former comfort women sued the constitution for violation of human rights in 2006 resulting in the Korean government having to bug Japan for an apology starting 2011 when the case was finalized.

Then-Korean President Lee Myung-bak then raised the issue with then-Japan PM Noda Yoshihiko. But Japan declined to deal with the matter anymore because of the agreement signed in 1965. Being unable to have the issue settled, Lee lost face and decided to take a trip to Liancourt Rocks (Takeshima in Japanese; Dokdo in Korean) in 2012, and the comfort women issue became a territorial issue.

With the comfort women issue remaining unsettled, current Korean President Park Geun-hye has to deal with it. But all is fine for the Korean government because as long as they continue bugging Japan to show that they are “doing something about it,” they will not be charged for violating human rights. They can simply say, Japan refuses to do their part.

Meanwhile, back in 2002, the Japanese people who felt sorry for the former comfort women decided to use the Asian Women’s Fund, which was a fund from the general public to compensate the Korean women who suffered. Each of the former comfort woman was compensated approximately USD20,000 accompanied with a letter of apology from then-PM Koizumi Junichiro in 2002. The comfort women turned the money down, and Japan decided to raise the amount to USD30,000. While some of the comfort women then accepted the money, several others refused to accept it claiming that the money isn’t from the government and that the apology is not official.

These issues continue to this day, but as two of the bigger players of Asia’s economy, we sure hope that they can be resolved peacefully someday soon.

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