The purpose and reality of the accusations of former comfort women
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations with Japan and the Republic of Korea as the new coronavirus spreads around the world. South Korea’s Moon Jae-in administration remains in power, with the Japan-Korea Claims Agreement and the Japan-Korea agreement on the “comfort women” issue. The country continues to violate two international commitments, with no fundamental improvement in sight. In this context, the accusation by a former comfort woman against the former head of the “comfort women” support group is causing a stir in South Korea. Since the content of the accusations is related to the reasons for the abandonment of the Japan-Korea agreement by the Moon administration, Japanese government officials have taken a keen interest in the matter.
Relations between the two countries have been severely aggravated by the South Korean Supreme Court ruling on the so-called conscription lawsuit in October 2018, and have continued to cool as the civil administration has shown no signs of rectifying the status of the violation of the Japan-Korea claims arising from the ruling.
However, the deterioration in relations began even before the sequestration ruling. The civil administration has unilaterally called for the cancellation of the Japan-Korea agreement at the end of 2003, which was confirmed as a “final and irreversible solution” to the problem.
The Japanese government fulfilled the agreement by contributing 1 billion yen (approx.. 12 million CDN) to the Reconciliation and Healing Foundation set up by the South Korean government. The foundation used the money to provide support to the former “comfort women” and their families.
However, the South Korean government established a task force under the direct control of Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha to review this agreement. In January 2006, he said, “An agreement that does not firmly reflect the will of the victims is not a true solution to the problem. He announced his position in November of the same year, and the foundation announced its dissolution, effectively breaking the agreement (the foundation was dissolved in July 2007).
In South Korea, two former comfort women have come forward in rapid succession to accuse the foundation of being behind the scenes of this agreement.
The accusations were leveled against Yun Mi-hyang, who was elected to the ruling party in the April general election. The former Korean Council on Countermeasures for the Problems of the Korean Paratroopers, a support group for “comfort women” (tei-tai-kyo, now known as the “Council for the Resolution of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery Issue”, or the Solidarity for Justice and Memory.
The Tei-tai-kyo is an anti-Japanese group that has held weekly rallies against the Japanese government in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday since January 1992 and has used the United Nations and the U.S. Congress to campaign for the “comfort women” issue to be made an issue at home and abroad.
The first to accusation was by Lee Yong-soo, 91, a famous former “comfort woman” who has worked with the Tei-tai-kyo.
According to South Korean media, at a press conference in her hometown of Daegu on May 7th, Lee said that she had participated in the Wednesday meetings regularely, however, she claims “the donations have never been used for the victims, and I don’t know where they were spent. I don’t know,” she repeated, “I don’t know,” and declared that she would not participate in future rallies nor cooperate with the organization in the future. She said, “For 30 years, we were cheated and we were used.” (Chosun Ilbo).
She added that with regard to the Japan-Korea agreement, “One billion yen will come in from Japan, but only Representative Yun knew about it. The victims should have known about it, but they were the only ones who did.” (JoongAng Ilbo) “When Ms. Yun was the head of the Tei-tai-kyo, she was briefed by the South Korean Foreign Ministry on the details of the agreement beforehand, but she did not tell Ms. Lee about it.”
Lee later told the monthly magazine, “If I had made the agreement, I would have informed the victims; I was the only one who was completely deceived.
Yun said that at the time of the Japan-Korea agreement, “there was no consultation” from the South Korean government, and that “the will of the victims was not heard at all,” which means she was telling a lie when she claimed the agreement was invalid.
In this regard, a former South Korean Foreign Ministry official said, “After the agreement was reached, we were not able to inform the victims because Ms. Yun was opposed to it.” (JoongAng Ilbo, electronic version, Jan. 12).
Another accusation was reported by the “JoongAng Ilbo” (11 March, electronic version). Another former “comfort woman” wrote a letter to Moon Hee-sang, Parliamentary Chair, in March of this year, saying that the foundation, at the time the financial aid was being provided, to the victims, “Ms. Yun called me and said, ‘Grandma, I’ll take the money from Japan. Please don’t receive it. We will give you the money when the Tei-tai-kyo receives it.”
Over the agreement, the task force noted that after verification, they did not fully listen to the former comfort women, and Moon Jae-in said in January 2018 that “the way the two governments exchanged terms and conditions under the previous administration excluded the victims and tried to resolve the issue without them was the wrong way” (Yonhap News).
But based on the accusations of the two former comfort women, it was the intervening Tei-tai-kyo that failed to listen to them, excluded them, and prevented them problem from being truly solved.
The book “Anti-Japanese Racism,” which became a best-selling book both in Japan and South Korea, wrote that “the Council of Trade Unions (CWA) “seriously resolved the comfort women issue. Their real goal is not to do so, but to use this issue to destroy the relationship between the two countries. The accusations of the two former comfort women provide concrete evidence of the efforts of the Council of Trade Unions to achieve this goal.”
It was also reported in 2004 that a group of women former comfort women had criticized the organization, claiming that it was in fact a group of people who had sold the “comfort women” victims to gain only profit for themselves (18 April, JoongAng Ilbo, electronic version).
For the sake of the future of Japan and South Korea, I hope that the South Korean media will take a deeper look at how the Tei-tai-kyo movement has exploited former comfort women and adversely affected Japan-South Korea relations.