Prior to and during World War II, women from Korea were forced to work in brothels. These individuals came to be known as Korean comfort women. The Japanese Imperial Army partook in the brothels. This action as the response of Japan following the war created a rift in relations between Tokyo and Seoul for decades.
In December of 2015 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun-hye made an agreement in order to address issues surrounding surviving South Korean comfort women. The comfort women testimonies that continued to come to light put a great strain on the relationship between their two countries. The purpose of the agreement was to ease tensions and to make up for the wrongdoings of the Japanese Army during World War II. The international community expressed pleasure for the ability of Japan and South Korea to finally bring resolution to an issue that had been a sore spot between them for such a long time.
As part of the deal, South Korea would establish a fund for former Korean comfort women. Japan contributed 1 billion yen to this fund in 2016. Shinzo Abe also issued a formal apology to the affected women and expressed deep remorse for the actions of the Japanese military during the war.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Japan’s Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama met in June 2017 to discuss the 2015 comfort women agreement. This meeting occurred prior to a White House meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump.
Sugiyama plans to continue implementation of the 2015 agreement, and Sullivan expressed his support. During a briefing at the State Department Sugiyama explained that the agreement was highly valued by the United States as well as the international community.
President Moon expressed his desire to renegotiate the agreement during his election campaign.
During the June 2017 talks, the United States and Japan asserted the importance of adhering to the 2015 comfort women deal. In addition to improving bilateral relations with Seoul, Tokyo hopes that it will receive cooperation from the United States.
In Sugiyama’s meeting with Sullivan, he expressed that Japan and South Korea had begun deepening their relations in a positive manner with the initial implementation of the comfort women agreement. Tokyo strongly believes that they have begun taking steps in the right direction. The comfort women stories will be important factors in smoothing over historical tensions and continuing to strengthen the alliance between the two countries.
A strong alliance between South Korea and Japan is vital. In light of North Korea’s increasing hostilities in the region, it is more important than ever that the two countries have a strong alliance.
Sugiyama and Sullivan agreed that more pressure is needed to convince North Korea to halt its missile development program. They plan to advise the U.S. and Japan to apply sanctions in order to achieve this goal. Furthermore, they agreed that pushing China to heal deal North Korea was important. China is the country’s primary ally, so it is key in relations with North Korea.
Tensions surrounding the historical events involving Korean comfort women have existed for decades in the Pacific. The 2015 agreement between Japan and Korea in resolving these issues and supporting victims was an important step in bilateral relations between the two countries. Their alliances with each other will be key in the coming years.