Korean nationalists pay for Times Square advertisement / Demand additional apologies from Japan

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    Korean nationalists are at it again. They’ve bought a new advertisement in New York’s Times Square, demanding that Japan issue more apologies for its wartime use of Korean comfort women:

    The advertisement, which is more than 10 meters square, begins with the question “Do you remember?” and shows former German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeling in apology for Nazi atrocities at a Jewish ghetto monument in Poland in the 1970s.

    The sign says the action “promoted reconciliation in Europe.”

    It continues: “In 2012, Korean women forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers … are still waiting for a heartfelt apology from Japan.”

    The Japanese consulate apparently sent an official letter of protest to the advertising company that ran the ad. A futile move, no doubt.

    The advertisement plays upon American ignorance of the issue. New Yorkers and tourists who read the advertisement will probably believe that Japan has never apologized or offered reparations to the comfort women. Most Americans do not realize that Japan has paid millions of yen in compensation to Korea and has apologized on numerous occasions in the past. I have copy-pasted some background information about the issue onto the bottom of this blog post, so that those who are not familiar with the issue can learn the truth.

    Background Information on Japan’s Official Response to the Comfort Women Issue

    The issue of war reparations was addressed during the negotiations of the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The South Korean government accepted a huge sum of money from Japan, stating that it would take care of the distribution of reparations to individual Korean victims of Japanese imperialism. The South Korean government agreed that its citizens would no longer have the legal right to demand compensation payments from the Japanese government.

    Unfortunately for the victims, the South Korean government hid the reparations agreement from its citizens and used the money for other purposes. For decades, South Koreans believed that Japan had not properly paid reparations to their country. The South Korean government eventually admitted the truth in 2005:

    In January 2005, the South Korean government disclosed 1,200 pages of diplomatic documents that recorded the proceeding of the treaty. The documents, kept secret for 40 years, recorded that South Korea agreed to demand no compensations, either at the government or individual level, after receiving $800 million in grants and soft loans from Japan as compensation for its 1910–45 colonial rule in the treaty.
    The documents also recorded that the Korean government demanded a total of 364 million dollars in compensation for the 1.03 million Koreans conscripted into the workforce and the military during the colonial period, at a rate of 200 dollars per survivor, 1,650 dollars per death and 2,000 dollars per injured person.However, the South Korean government used most of the grants for economic development, failing to provide adequate compensation to victims by paying only 300,000 won per death in compensating victims of forced labor between 1975 and 1977. Instead, the government spent most of the money establishing social infrastructures, founding POSCO, building Gyeongbu Expressway and the Soyang Dam with the technology transfer from Japanese companies.

    The documents also reveal that the South Korean government claimed that it would handle individual compensation to its citizens who suffered during Japan’s colonial rule while rejecting Japan’s proposal to directly compensate individual victims and receiving the whole amount of grants on the behalf of victims.(emphasis added)

    Despite this evidence, many Koreans insist to this day that Japan never paid any form of compensation to their country. They have also dismissed or ignored the Japanese government’s numerous apologies to victims of imperialism.

    When the comfort women issue gained international attention in the 1990′s, the Japanese government decided that it was a special case. Despite the fact that the previous treaty had legally settled the reparations issue and despite the fact that South Korea had paid compensation to the women, measures were taken to provide additional aid to former comfort women. Directly paying reparations would violate the 1965 agreement, so the Japanese government instead established the Asian Women’s Fund to raise funds and deliver compensation payments.

    As noted on the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s homepage, the official response to the issue included apologies and the distribution of billions of yen in reparations to surviving comfort women:

    Recognizing that the issue known as “comfort women” was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of a large number of women, the Government of Japan, together with the people of Japan, seriously discussed what could be done for expressing their sincere apologies and remorse to the former “comfort women.” As a result, the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) was established on July 19, 1995 in order to extend atonement from Japanese people to the former “comfort women.” Having decided to provide necessary assistance for the AWF by a Cabinet decision in August 1995, the Government of Japan, with a view to fulfilling its moral responsibility, had been providing all possible assistance for the AWF, including bearing the total operational costs of the AWF, assisting its fund-raising and providing the necessary funds to implement its activities (approximately 4.8 billion yen from the AWF’s founding through fiscal year of 2005), in order for the AWF to attain its goals.

    The AWF closed its doors in 2006, after having spent a decade searching for surviving comfort women and delivering compensation and apologies to those willing to accept them. Sadly, many former comfort women rejected the apologies and compensation. This was because Korean nationalists had convinced them that a foundation established and funded by the Japanese government was “unofficial,” and thus the AWF’s work did not amount to a “sincere” effort by Japan. The civic group that erected the bronze statue is made up of people who hold such a view of the AWF.

    And finally, here are two frequently mentioned points that should probably be addressed.

    • Korea wasn’t a democratic country in 1965” – Apparently, some people think that the entire 1965 agreement should be scrapped because Park Chung-hee was not a democratically elected ruler. Unfortunately, that’s not how diplomacy works. Japan had no control over the form of government in South Korea, and it had to deal with the South Korea that existed at that time. Compensation payments were necessary to normalize relations, and Japan had to agree to pay that money to the South Korean government before the treaty could be signed. Waiting decades to see if South Korea would ever democratize was not a realistic option. And it isn’t fair to expect that Japan should repay that money because the South Korean government didn’t properly execute the domestic end of the agreement. [ It's also strange to think that today's Japan should be held financially accountable for the actions of its pre-1945 undemocratic regime, but that Korea should ignore the actions of its previous undemocratic regime.]
    • “Why doesn’t Japan just make a direct payment of compensation to the women?” – Since the end of World War II, Japan has used bilateral agreements to settle reparations issues with all of the countries that suffered due to Japanese imperialism. Billions of yen were paid to the national governments of countries. The agreements made individual compensation a legal matter between the people of those countries and the governments of those countries. These kinds of state level agreements are widely recognized throughout the world, and are far more common than agreements that leave open the possibility of compensation lawsuits from individuals. If Japan were to void its agreement with South Korea by paying direct individual compensation to the former comfort women, it would in effect void all the other postwar reparations agreements. Reparations that were already legally settled and already paid at the state level would have to be re-paid at the individual level. The Asian Women’s Fund allowed Japan to avoid the legal mess of voiding treaties, while still being able to satisfying a desire to pay special compensation to the surviving comfort women. (To learn more about Japan’s state level compensation policy, check out Japan’s Contested War Memories by Philip Seaton and flip to page 59.)

    This summary of the apology/compensation issue is not meant to belittle or insult the former comfort women. Their suffering was great, and they deserved compensation and apologies. This summary was meant to provide a calm and rational look at how the postwar Japanese government has already taken very real actions in response to the situation – including very real apologies and very real monetary compensation.

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