The Statue of Peace: a young girl that sits on a bench outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.

The Statue of Peace

Comfort Women: Japan & South Korea’s simmering flashpoint

20 February 2018

The historical issue of “comfort women” is still a simmering source of tension between Japan and South Korea. Dr Lauren Richardson, the new Director of Studies at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, is finishing a book that asks how this and other similar issues centred on victim redress are reshaping the diplomatic relationship of the two countries.

Questions of redress for Korean victims of forced sexual slavery by Japan before and during World War II remains a flash point between the two countries. Being economically interdependent, with a common enemy in North Korea, “they have every reason to cooperate,” Dr Richardson says, “yet, they have all this trouble because of their mutual historical past.”

The puzzle Dr Richardson seeks to solve now is why these problems between Japan and Korea have become more contentious over time. Her answer highlights the role of non-state actors: the victims of these injustices, and their advocates. “These issues are not likely to go away unless the two governments really start listening to what victims want and what their conception of redress is,” she says. With Japan and South Korea being the US government’s two key allies in Asia, it’s an issue for America, too. As Dr Richardson notes, “it’s a bit of a headache for Washington.”

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