SEOUL–Voices objecting to the comfort women deal recently reached between South Korea and Japan are getting stronger in Seoul as students from the nation’s major universities join hands with the civic groups to oppose the deal.
On Dec. 28, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reached an agreement calling for an apology from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the Korean survivors of Japan’s Pacific War sexual slavery. The deal also calls for the creation of a 1 billion yen (US$8.3 million) foundation for the victims to be funded by the Japanese government.
Hundreds of students from such universities as Korea University, Ehwa Women’s University, and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies have issued statements condemning and calling for scrapping the deal.
Korea University’s Student Union issued a statement on Jan. 5 to object to the “humiliating” deal. It called the deal a Japanese government’s gesture to evade legal responsibility for the countless number of Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japan, euphemistically referred to as comfort women.
Earlier, Ehwa Women’s University also issued a statement and condemned the deal by characterizing it as a humiliating one that lacks sincerity.
The students demanded that Tokyo take full and official legal responsibility and pay legal compensation to the comfort women in a form outside the agreed to fund.
Even some middle and high school students raised their voice to denounce the deal.
Scores of students of a pan-national youth group held a press conference in downtown Seoul on Jan. 2 and said that the deal didn’t reflect the demands of the survivors of Japan’s wartime sexual brothels.
Earlier on Jan. 4, a dozen of college professors specializing in comfort women issues issued a statement and demanded that the agreement be scrapped. They included Chung Jin-sung of Seoul National University, Lee Na-young of Chung-Ang University, Lee Shin-chul of Sungkyunkwan University, and Lee Jae-seung of Konkuk University.
“The core of the comfort women matter is for Japan to take its responsibility as a nation,” the statement said. “The efforts of the victims and civic groups around the world became futile due to this agreement.”
As of January 2016, only 46 Korean survivors of sexual slavery are still alive and most of them are in their late 80s or early 90s.
They are among about 200 former sex slaves officially registered by the government in late 1990s.
During WWII as many as 200,000 Korean women were forced to work in sexual brothels set up at Japanese military posts in the Pacific theater, according to the experts.
One of the former sex slaves, 90-year-old Kim Bok-dong cried for a sincere apology from the Japanese prime minister.
“What we want is not the money,” she said. “We will fight to the end until the comfort women issue is finally settled.”
Side bar: Japan recruited sex slaves during Pacific War
Imperial Japanese Army first introduced “a system of military sexual slavery” or euphemistically “comfort woman system” for its soldiers in 1932. By 1938, the system was expanded to the entire Japanese military, which conquered and ruled much of Asia in WWII.
“The Rape of Nanking” incident in 1937-1938 helped promote the creation of the heinous system by Tokyo.
When Japanese soldiers committed mass rapes of Chinese women in Nanking, heightening anti-Japanese feeling throughout China, the Japanese military decided to set up “comfort places” or sex facilities within its military units as a way of relieving its soldiers of pent up desire.
When Pacific War broke out with the US in 1941 and Japan expanded its war front, the Japanese military needed more comfort women. With the help of Japanese governor-general in Seoul, Japanese military officers were allowed to forcibly impress local women into ‘comfort women’ service throughout the entire Korean peninsula.
The number of Korean victims varies from 80,000 and up to 200,000. Japanese government denied that they ran any such system until 1991 when a brave woman named Kim Hak-soon came out and revealed such Japanese atrocities to the world. Japanese governor-general’s office in Seoul incinerated all related documents in the closing days of WWII.
A 1994 report showed that hundreds of former sex slaves of various nationalities were still alive. Most of them were women of Asian countries occupied by Japan before and during the Pacific War. Among them were 160 South Koreans, 131 North Koreans, 100 Filipinos, 50 Taiwanese, eight Indonesians, and two Malays.
These numbers only reflected those who had stepped forward to identify themselves. It’s believed that many more victims are alive but don’t want to publicly acknowledge their tragic past. Even after Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945, many Korean victims have chosen to stay in the wartime locales outside Korea where they were forced to serve sex to Japanese soldiers.
Joh Woon-kyong is a veteran South Korean journalist who has worked for The Seoul Times, The Korea Herald, and Dong-A Ilbo, South Korea’s mass circulation daily.