With Japan offering an apology and 1 billion yen (about S$11.7 million) to help establish a foundation to support the women forced to work as sex slaves during the Japanese occupation of South Korea, the two countries agreed to settle their long-standing differences over the so-called comfort women on Monday (Dec 28).
This marks a turning point in ties between Tokyo and Seoul. It should also serve as a starting point for Japan to act in a more responsible manner to resolve the sensitive historical issue with its other neighbours.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's notorious revisionist policy has fuelled rightwing politicians' attempts to deny Japan's wartime atrocities, including the exploitation of the "comfort women", which is a Japanese euphemism for the women forced into sexual slavery in Japan's military brothels in the countries it occupied in the first half of the last century.
Also, the United States may have played a part in pushing for reconciliation between the two Asian neighbours since both of them are allies of the US. On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US welcomes the agreement between Japan and South Korea, believing it will promote healing and help improve relations between two of its most important allies.
From a regional perspective, the rapprochement between Japan and the South could contribute to regional peace and stability and encourage countries in the region to pursue a peaceful road of development.
Yet Japan needs to be reminded that South Korean women were not the only victims of its wartime crimes. Historians estimate there were about 200,000 "comfort women" from China, the Korean Peninsula, South-east Asia, Russia, the Netherlands and other countries. In all, less than 100 are still alive today.
Obviously, this step, although welcome, does not settle the "comfort women" issue as a whole. Given that Japan's settlement with South Korea is largely politically driven, rather than being a true reflection of its responsibility, the move is not enough to signify Japan is ready to truly own up to its past.
At present, ties between China and Japan, and South Korea and Japan have thawed somewhat, and trilateral cooperation has been revived. But for the sake of lasting peace and stability in Northeast Asia, Japan is obliged to properly address the historical issues that it has allowed to fester for so long.