'Comfort women' still a thorny issue for Japan's relations with South Korea

Japan angered after top Korean official suggests Emperor Akihito should personally apologize to surviving 'comfort women'

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Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The National Assembly Speaker of South Korea, Moon Hee Sang, has sparked anger in Japan because of recent comments regarding the ongoing debate over Japan’s use of “comfort women” during World War II.

Last week in a Bloomberg interview, Moon said that if Japanese Emperor Akihito held the hands of surviving Korean comfort women and offered an apology, then it would effectively end the debate over the issue once and for all.

In his remarks, Moon referred to Akihito as the “son of the main culprit of war crimes,” referring to Emperor Hirohito, the monarch of Japan during the war.

Moon’s statements have incensed many in the Japanese government and throughout Japan, for the suggestion that Emperor Akihito would personally be responsible for such acts or that he would ever apologize for such wrongdoing.


File photo, Dec. 2017: Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko (Associated Press photo)

Tokyo has lodged an official protest with Seoul and is demanding a retraction and an apology from Moon. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, has called the remarks “extremely inappropriate,” reports Bloomberg.

The comfort woman debate is a persistent source of tension between South Korea and Japan. The Japanese government insists that it has adequately apologized and offered reparations to the affected families, while South Korea continues to insist that more genuine apologies and actions are required to atone for the historical violation of human rights.

Korean President Moon Jae-In has suggested that Korea should abandon a “final and irreversible” pact between the countries made in 2015 that was meant to settle the issue.


File Photo: Images of former South Korean comfort women (Associated Press Image)

The comfort women issue has also created rifts between Taiwan and Japan. In 2018, a Japanese nationalist and historical revisionist was caught on video kicking a monument to comfort women in Tainan, shortly after the statue was unveiled to the public by the Tainan Association for Comfort Women’s Rights, an organization affiliated with the KMT.

The incident sparked outrage and renewed discussion of the issue in Taiwan.

Earlier in the year, some small protests held outside the Japan Representative office in Taipei demanded that Japan offer an apology and compensation to families of victims in Taiwan, in a manner similar to the deal agreed to with South Korea.

In the past, Japan provided financial remuneration to 13 Taiwanese women who responded to Japan’s offer. Each of them received a personal letter of apology from the former Prime Minister, according to the Japan Taiwan Exchange Associaiton.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it continues to engage with Japan on the issue.

The Japanese government has been engaging with civic groups and governments throughout Asia since the 1990s in an effort to address the issue, offer compensation to victims, and ameliorate damaged ties caused by actions of the Japanese military during World War II.