Published On: Wed, Nov 29th, 2017

South Korea and Japan to Continue with Security Cooperation Despite the ‘Comfort Women’ Row

Despite the Japanese and South Korean leaders disagreeing on the 2015 agreement to settle the comfort women case, they are ready to adopt a new approach that will not jeopardize their cooperation in addressing security issues in the region. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a joint meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Although the Korean President said that his country could not accept the agreement, it’s not yet clear whether he is asking for are negotiation.


During the 1910 to 1945 Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula, thousands of women from the region were taken by the Japanese to provide sexual services to its army. The word “comfort women” was coined to define these women. Japan has since then accepted responsibility and signed an agreement in 2015. Since then the surviving women have received ¥1 billion (about $9 million) from the Japanese government.

South Korea Under President Moon

Before his election, the South Korean president had promised to force Japan into another agreement on Korean comfort women. Although the deal was expected to ‘finally and irreversibly” settle the issue, a study by Gallup in February showed about 70 percent of South Koreans are not comfortable with the agreement and want a renegotiation. President Moon has not talked about renegotiation since his election in May.

What is President Moon’s stand on the issue? What has made him appear reluctant on the push for renegotiation? In June, the South Korean president told The Washington Post that cooperation between the two countries, especially on the security threat posed by North Korea should not be affected by the South Korean comfort women issue. Strained relationship with China after the deployment of American missile defense system and the reluctance by Beijing to impose sanctions on Pyongyang has made strong ties with Japan even more critical.

According to Brad Glosserman who works at the Pacific Center for Strategic and International Studies, the President is determined to find a lasting solution. As the president, Moon has to put his nation’s interests first in everything action he takes. He has to be sensitive to the emotional needs of his people while still taking care of the country’s security needs. The South Korean government may be forced to find ways to diffuse Korean comfort women case.

Public Opinion in Seoul

Over the years, comfort women testimonies have made more people in South Korea feel that Japan needs to take responsibility. These women were used as sex slaves by the Japanese soldiers. Many have felt the need to recognize and compensate the remaining South Korean comfort women. Various civil organizations in Seoul have erected statues of these women in front of not only the Japanese Embassy in Seoul but also its Consulate in Busan. Japan has retaliated by reducing the number of diplomats in the region.

Due to the publicity the comfort women stories have attracted in Seoul, the government is determined to address the people’s sentiment about the agreement. One of the steps that have already been taken is to establish the process that was followed during the signing of the deal. For instance, the government is determined to find out what led to the inclusion of the term “finally and irreversibly” in the agreement. It is also concerned about the requirement to remove a statute representing the South Korean comfort women in the nation’s capital.

The Way Forward

Despite the existence of a sharp difference between the two governments on the Korean comfort women issue, they have agreed to keep the General Security of Military Information Agreement. Under this agreement, the two countries share military intelligence information to enhance security in the region. The two countries are determined and committed to end this issue amicably.

Author: Lavina Fernandes


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