Sankei Shimbun Associate Correspondent Stationed in Washington, DC
Prologue The issue of the comfort women has been a stumbling-block for Japan-South Korean relations. Where does the issue stand today? How will the relationship between Japan and South Korea be changed - or not changed - by the “final agreement” on the comfort women issue reached by the foreign ministers of both countries at the end of 2015? Furthermore, what has been the American reaction to the agreement - a reaction carrying particular weight for both South Korea and Japan? The diplomatic accord reached on December 28, 2015, announced the “final and irreversible resolution” to the comfort women issue, which had for many years been a source of friction between Japan and South Korea. Just this wording alone makes the December accord an epochal event even in the long history of Japan-South Korea relations. The following is a status report on the points outlined above, current as of the end of February, 2016 - exactly two months past the signing of the accord on December 28. I will frame this report using the perspective of Washington, DC, where I am currently stationed. I adopt this approach, not merely because Washington is where I conduct my reporting and commentary, but also because the American reaction to, and awareness of, the comfort women accord is of particular importance. The reaction of the American superpower is the most effective barometer for measuring the reaction of the international community as a whole. Moreover, the US is the most important ally for both Japan and South Korea. What’s more, America was the biggest broker of the conclusion of the agreement between Japan and South Korea at the end of last year. The Obama Administration strongly desired that Japan and South Korea resolve their standoff over the comfort women problem and fall into step on the security front. Since she took office, South Korean President Park Geun-hye has widely touted her condition that, before any summit with Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo could take place, “Japan must first take good-faith measures on the comfort women issue.” It was due in large part to pressure from the Obama Administration that, three-and-a-half years later, President Park withdrew that condition and met with Prime Minister Abe. It seems that December’s joint accord, strongly desired by the Obama Administration, was the result of Obama’s team’s having softened the South Koreans’ particularly hard-line stance. Before looking at the American reaction, it should be noted that “America,” being diverse, could denote many different groups. I will therefore divide my report into four different sections: First, the American government and Congress; second, the American news media; third, American activists and academics; and fourth, the average American citizen.