Comfort women deal backfires for Park

December 30, 2015
People watch a live television program airing South Korean President Park Geun-hye's New Year's press conference at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, Monday, an. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is facing mounting criticism for allegedly rushing to end the decades-long dispute over the “comfort women” without considering public sentiment. (File-AP)

By Kang Seung-woo

President Park Geun-hye’s leadership and diplomatic prowess are being put to the test, as Korea’s sex slavery agreement with Japan is drawing a fierce backlash from former “comfort women” and the public.

If she fails to control the aftermath, she could experience a serious leadership crisis ― and possibly become an early “lame duck” ― as she enters her fourth year in office in February, analysts said Wednesday. Her single, five-year term ends in early 2018.

The sex slavery deal is being likened on social networking sites to the deal Korea struck with the United States in 2008 to resume beef imports, which triggered protests that paralyzed the nation for months.

President Park herself faces growing public criticism that gave in to Japan by rushing to end the decades-long dispute over the “comfort women” without considering public sentiment.

Civic groups as well as the remaining survivors of the wartime atrocity are set to reject the agreement, denouncing it as political collusion. In addition, the opposition claims that it is invalid, calling for her to apologize.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida reached the agreement that centers on Japan’s admission of responsibility for the crime and agreement to pay reparations to the victims.

However, Tokyo did not take legal responsibility for the comfort women and the Japanese media continues to report that a statue symbolizing a comfort woman, located in front of the Japanese Embassy, will be removed. Korea and Japan discussed moving the bronze statue during Monday’s foreign ministerial talks, but came to no agreement.

“Although striking the deal is meaningful, current negative sentiment can overshadow the essence of the agreement and it may damage Park’s leadership,” said Chung Goon-gi, a professor at Hongik University.

Yoon Hee-woong, a senior researcher at Opinion Live, said that the deal could bring about a negative assessment of the President’s leadership.

“Complaints of Japan’s failure to acknowledge legal responsibility and the possibility of relocating the statue may lead to further worsening public sentiment toward her,” Yoon said.

Amid escalating criticisms, the government has stepped up efforts to seek understanding from the victims and the public, but to no avail so far.

Right after the deal was struck, President Park issued a public statement asking for understanding from a broader perspective.

On Wednesday, Korea’s two vice foreign ministers visited two separate shelters for the survivors, one in Seoul and the other in Gyeonggi Province, to ease their anger, only to receive the cold shoulder.

Parliamentary approval?

Rep. Moon Jae-in, the chairman of the main opposition party, recently rebranded as the Minjoo Party of Korea from New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), said that the bilateral deal on the comfort women was invalid because it was reached without parliamentary consent.

“As the deal is a treaty or an agreement that relinquishes the people’s rights, the National Assembly must approve it in advance,” Moon said during a party meeting.

“The government’s ham-fisted approach to reaching the deal is the dismal outcome of President Park’s diplomacy that set the resolution of the comfort women issue as a precondition for improving relations between Korea and Japan.”

The opposition further called for the President’s apology and the resignation of the foreign minister, holding them responsible for what they called a “humiliating and treacherous” agreement.

With no signs of the negativity eroding, there are growing calls for President Park to visit the survivors of the wartime wrongdoing.

“Nothing has been decided on the President’s visit,” said presidential spokesman Jung Youn-kuk in a briefing.

The political analysts said that the anger over the comfort women deal may escalate into a serious problem just as the nation faced with the “mad cow protests.”

In April 2008, the Lee Myung-bak government agreed with the U.S. to resume importing American beef just before a state visit to the U.S., drawing huge backlash from the public who feared mad cow disease.

As a result, there were candlelit vigils for months, hitting hard against the nascent government.

“Should the relocation of the girl statue happen, President Park will face a much fiercer backlash,” said Chung.

“There is a low possibility of immediate huge street protests like in 2008, but more people are expected to participate in the Wednesday rally in front of the Japanese Embassy,” Yoon said.

“However, with an increasing number of participants, stronger negative reactions against President Park can arise.”


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  3. Horangih Gomtoki

    December 30, 2015 at 8:20 PM

    Comfort women issue is past history. Let’s focus on Korea today. It is still occupied by a foreign power that uses Korean women as prostitutes, and those women FREELY choose to be whores. Isn’t that the bigger shame? And look at Korean pop culture esp in K-pop. Isn’t that just a celebration of SLUT WHORE CULTURE? If Koreans freely embrace whoredom, why should they complain about how Japanese forced Korean women to be whores. Today, we see Korean women CHOOSING to be whores. And Korean society is okay with it and even endorses it. How many more Korean women will sell their bodies to American soldiers that still occupy Korean soil? When will Koreans demand that US admit that it divided Korea and handed over one-half to Stalin?

    Btw, South Korea was pressured to accept this deal by America. America wants to use Japan and South Korea as its puppet-dogs. America noticed that the Comfort Women issue was dividing South Korea and Japan. So, American pressured both nations to arrive at this deal and then side with US against China.

    So, the obvious truth from this deal is that South Korea takes orders from the US because it is still occupied by the US empire.

    Japan lost the war long time ago. It is past history. But US occupies Korea today. And why is Korea divided and why is North Korea ruled by a Stalinist regime? Because it was America’s idea to have USSR enter North Asia and take half of Korea. It was America’s idea to have Russia invade Asia.

    So, when will Koreans demand that America admit to the butchering of Korea? When will Koreans pressure America to face up to its own historical crime against Korea? Why does Korea keep raising these issues only with Japan that lost the war long ago?

    It is because Koreans are cowards who beat up on Japan because it is just a fellow whore of the US empire. The feud between Japan and South Korea is one between dogs or whores.
    They have the same master: the US. As they’ve become dependent on the US for the economy, they allow US to occupy their nations militarily and take orders.


  4. Moguro Fukuz

    January 4, 2016 at 11:14 AM