The diplomatic ties that exist between various nations are often hard-won. Governments often have many competing objectives that they must consider including taking actions that ensure and safeguard the country they are responsible for governing and that speak to the needs of their most important stakeholders: the citizens. In addition to ensuring that they pursue political priorities that speak to the many needs and wants that exist within their own countries governments must also consider the needs and wants of countries that they have strategic relationships with.
Some countries find themselves having to form relationships because they occupy the same geographic region of the world as such are subject to challenges that are unique to their region. Other countries can find themselves having to cultivate relationships with one another because of their history with one another. The diplomatic relationship that has been cultivated between the island society of Japan and South Korea is one such relationship. For many years now South Korea and Japan have been trying and failing to reconcile a diplomatic issue that has its origins in the military conflicts that changed the world during the 1940s.
The nation of Japan played an active role during the conflict that is known as World War II. During that time the Japanese Imperial Army forced women from South Korea, today known as comfort women, to serve as sex workers during this time period. Some of these Korean comfort women had been kidnapped and were forced to endure very traumatic hardships in the brothels that they were held in. Since then Japan’s position in global politics has changed drastically. Japan has since formally renounced its right to go to war and has repositioned itself the global economy as a country that is known for technological innovation and high quality manufactured goods. Despite this the issue of the comfort women still colors the relationship that it shares with South Korea. The difficult experiences that the South Korean comfort women went through demands that some sort of atonement should be made on their behalf. The difficulty has been in figuring out exactly what form that atonement should take with regard to the Japanese government.
A task force resolved that the comfort women testimonies and the comfort women stories needed to be given a platform during a hearing. After issuing an apology to South Korea nearly 20 years ago the Japanese government proposed a remedy to the situation that involved instituting a fund that would be able to serve the needs of the women who had suffered all those years ago. However this particular remedy did not end up standing the test of time as two very important stakeholders, the South Korean government and the women themselves found that it was lacking. Ever since then this unresolved issue has hung over the heads of leaders from both countries who found it challenging to resolve the problem and the resulting tension that it has created between two governments that need one another in order to prosper in the region.
Things thawed on the issue when the former South Korean leader Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reached an agreement. Ever since Park’s predecessor Moon Jae-in came to power the future of that agreement has been uncertain. South Korea’s new President had noted that it would take more than a word for the matter of the women who were traumatized during the 1940s to be settled.
In early 2018 the Prime Minister of Japan reiterated that the 2015 agreement that he had reached with Moon Jae-in’s predecessor should be honored and that it was the bedrock of the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Even so, both the Japanese Prime Minister and South Korea’s President have shown a commitment to cooperation and as such have upheld their commitment to holding a summit that would involve both leaders in addition to the leadership of the People*s Republic of China.